Snoring in Children & Toddlers: When to Worry
While some snoring in children and toddlers is normal, sometimes it’s a sign of a medical condition that needs treatment, and they should see their pediatrician, who may refer them to a pediatric otolaryngology (ENT) specialist.
Read more below, where Lurie Children’s ear, nose and throat specialists weigh in on when snoring should mean a trip to a pediatric ENT specialist.
Families can make an appointment with one of Lurie Children’s ENT specialists by filling out an online Appointment Request Form, contacting 1.800.KIDS DOC (1.800.543.7362) or, for existing Lurie Children's or Town and Country Pediatrics patients, logging in to MyChart to schedule your own new or return appointment for some specialties.
Common Snoring in Children and Toddlers
Approximately 10 to 20% of kids snore. Light snoring is common in children and may not require medical intervention. Snoring may relate to position while sleeping (children are more likely to snore when lying on their back than on the side or stomach).
What Does “Typical” Snoring Sound Like
Typical snoring could be described as audible breathing, and this may occur on and off throughout a night of sleep depending on the stage of sleep the child is in (light sleep, deep sleep or dream sleep). It can also depend on the sleep position of the child.
Causes of “Normal” Snoring in Children and Toddlers
Snoring is a sign of disturbed airflow from the nose and mouth to the lungs. If there is something getting in the way of the air moving, then your child snores. There are several anatomic variables in addition to a level of congestion present from upper respiratory tract infections (colds) or allergies. This type of snoring is considered “primary snoring.”
The Most Common Anatomical Reasons for Snoring
- Enlargement of tonsils and adenoids
- Deviation of the septum
- Narrow palate
- Small jaw
- Narrowing of the larynx (voice box)
Other Reasons Children Snore Include
- Obesity, and other diseases can increase the risk as well
- Common cold
- Seasonal allergies
Problematic Snoring in Children and Toddlers
Worrisome snoring is loud enough to hear down a hallway and may be associated with gasping, more labored breathing and what is called apnea pauses. It is not expected that a family member should recognize an apnea pause, but persistent, loud snoring is usually a good sign to the parent that the child should be assessed by their primary care provider. Timely diagnosis is vital to allow early intervention and improved outcomes (restful, restorative night-time sleep). Interventions might be required to open the upper airways, such as surgically removing the tonsils and/or adenoids.
Nighttime Symptoms Parents Should be Looking for Include
- Apneas (pauses in breathing)
- Gasping for breath
- Choking during sleep
- Restless sleep
- Night terrors
Daytime Symptoms Include
- Waking up tired
- Daytime sleepiness requiring a nap
- Mouth breathing
- Changes in behavior (hyperactivity or aggressive behavior)
Side-effects of Sleep Apnea
- Impaired attention
- Behavior problems
- Reduced IQ
Home Remedies for Snoring
Positioning your child off their back to their belly for sleep can be helpful, but this is not usually a long-term solution. Other interventions, such as weight loss (through diet and exercise directed by your pediatrician) in overweight children can also be helpful.
For those children with seasonal allergies, medications like antihistamines and decongestants might be helpful.
When to See a Pediatric Specialist for Your Child’s Snoring
If the child demonstrates loud, persistent snoring night to night, with associated symptoms such as mouth breathing, witnessed apnea pauses, restlessness, gasping, difficulty waking in the morning and daytime fatigue, they may benefit from a specialty evaluation.
Lack of good sleep can impact daytime behavior, focus, and attention, so finding a strategy to improve sleep quality is important for the overall health and well-being of the child.
If sleep apnea is suspected (signs include: snoring, pauses in breathing, restless sleep, mouth breathing, night sweats and bedwetting), we recommend a consultation with a Lurie Children’s Pediatric Otolaryngologist to help you determine the best individualized plan for your child.
Lurie Children's Division of Otolaryngology
Lurie Children's Division of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery provides medical and surgical treatment for children with disorders of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), as well as head and neck tumors. Our physicians treat more children for ENT conditions than any other hospital in Illinois.
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