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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -
Childhood sleep apnea is gaining attention among pediatric experts who say children should now be regularly screened for the disorder.
The American Academy of Pediatrics said sleep apnea is very common among children at toddler age.
Kelly Ortiz, a mother of a 3-year-old daughter, remembered the night she woke up to the sound of her child snoring.
"My husband snores pretty loud and she was giving him some competition," Ortiz said.
Ortiz eventually realized her daughter Jacqualynn was coughing and gasping for air during sleep.
"She was waking up every two to three hours because she couldn't breathe," Ortiz said.
Jacqualynn was experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing due to a blocked airway.
Dr. Jasper Castillo, a pediatric ear, nose, and throat doctor at Huntsville Hospital, said the first thing he asks parents is how their child snores at night.
"Do they snore with their chest heaving? Because if they do that one, then it's a lot more concerning than the ones that look more comfortable," Dr. Castillo said.
That sound has become very familiar for many parents.
The AAP says childhood sleep apnea cases are appearing at sleep centers across the country -- typically in children between the ages of 2 and 6.
They are concerned because children suffering from the condition may not be breathing properly when they sleep, nor are they receiving the crucial sleep needed during development.
"When you're not breathing your oxygen level goes down, and even small dips in oxygen can cause problems, particularly to the developing brain," said Dr. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington DC.
The condition may sometimes trigger symptoms that signify Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but some doctors say children become hyperactive – not necessarily due to ADHD – but because they did not have a good night's rest.
"It affects their daytime performance. So you lose REM sleep for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, and you get a ticked-off, whiney, grumpy kid," Dr. Castillo said.
Overnight sleep studies are standard in confirming sleep apnea. Doctors also check for large tonsils and adenoids.
"You can leave them alone, or you can try to put one of those CPAP devices on them, which is super hard to get a kid to keep that one,"
Dr. Castillo said a common and reliable method to treat sleep apnea among young children is having the tonsils removed.
Ortiz said that operation resolved her daughter's sleep apnea.