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    Untreated sleep apnea leads to behavior problems


    This article is part of the Medical Economics Business of Health: Sleep Medicine resource center.


    Children with obstructive sleep apnea that is left untreated are at increased risk for developing problems with behavior, learning, and adaptive functioning, according to a 5-year study of sleep apnea in children and its effects on neurobehavioral regulation.

    University of Arizona researchers used data from the Tucson Children’s Assessment of Sleep Apnea (TuCASA) Study for 263 Hispanic and white children aged 6 to 11 years to determine the prevalence and incidence of sleep apnea. The children underwent overnight polysomnography and a battery of neurobehavioral assessments with parent and self-reported rating scales at 2 time points 5 years apart.

    Twenty-one children had persistent sleep apnea throughout the study period and 23 developed incident sleep apnea during the study. Another 41 children who began the study with sleep apnea no longer had any breathing problems at the 5-year follow-up.

    Findings showed that children with persistent sleep apnea were 6 times more likely to have parent-reported problems with hyperactivity, attention, disruptive behaviors, communication, social competency, and self care and those with incident sleep apnea were 4 to 5 times more likely to have these problems by the end of the study when compared with children who never had sleep apnea.

    The children with persistent sleep apnea also were 7 times more likely to have parent-reported learning problems and 3 times more likely to have a C average or lower in school than children without a sleep disorder.

    The researchers note that although sleep-disordered breathing affects only about 2% of healthy children and appears to decline into adolescence, parents should not wait to investigate effective treatment options for their children’s sleep apnea, including adenotonsillectomy or continuous positive airway pressure therapy.


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