Understanding Sleep Apnea in Babies – Diagnosis and Treatment

We’ve been looking at sleep apnea in babies over the past several articles. We know that sleep apnea in babies can be fatal. When a baby’s breathing stops, the levels of oxygen in his blood will fall and the levels of carbon dioxide will, at the same time, rise. When this happens an infant can have a rapid drop in heart rate, known as “bradycardia.” This is considered an apparent life threatening event, which can dramatically increase the baby’s risk of long-term complications or even death.

Your baby’s sleep apnea will be diagnosed by her doctor. He will do a physical examination of your baby, as well as a number of tests. He will measure how much oxygen is in her blood, and she will monitor both her heart rate and her breathing. She might also do some x-rays.

It’s possible that your baby’s doctor will refer you to a pediatric lung specialist, a sleep specialist or even an apnea specialist. These specialists might administer a polysomnogram, which monitors a number of factors such as eye movements, brain waves, breathing and blood oxygen levels while you sleep. There is a less-accurate portable study that you can do at home, or the doctor may ask you to put your baby on a home cardiorespiratory monitor that will record the movement of your baby’s chest as well as heart activity via EKG.

Treatment for your baby’s sleep apnea depends on its severity. He might recommend medication or simple monitoring. Sometimes, a child will need a CPAP machine. This is a machine that helps to keep the airway open. The machine blows air into the baby’s nose via a mask as he sleeps.

If you suspect your baby may have sleep apnea, don’t wait to talk to your doctor. As you know, sleep apnea can be dangerous, and it’s best if you’re able to identify and treat it early.