Untreated Sleep Apnea In Children Affects Brain Development, Study Says

By Amanda Moore, Parent Herald March 20, 04:00 am
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Sleep apnea in children occur among one to four percent and medical experts said parents should have this checked.
(Photo : John Moore/Getty Images)

Children who suffer from sleep apnea might have problems with brain development. A new study reveals that this disorder reduces gray matter in the child's brain, which can, in turn, hamper the child's cognitive abilities.

The study looked into the brains and sleep patterns of 16 children with sleep apnea from 7 to 11-years-old. Researchers saw a "significant" gray matter reduction in many regions of their brains of those without proper care or treatment, thus potentially affecting memory, perception, decision-making, self-control, emotions, movement and speech. The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

"MRI scans give us a bird's eye view of the apnea-related difference in volume of various parts of the brain, but they don't tell us, at the cellular level, what happened to the affected neurons or when," co-study author Dr. David Gozal from the University of Chicago said, as per Science Daily. "We can't tell exactly when the damage occurred. Previous studies from our group showed that we can connect the severity of the disease with the extent of the cognitive deficits when such deficits are detectable."

Sleep apnea is a common but serious condition that affects one to four percent of children, per the American Sleep Apnea Association. The sleeping disorder involves the interruption of breathing during sleep.

The brain's gray matter contains neurons or cells. It makes up 40 percent of the brain that processes all of the information and stimuli, while 60 percent is the white matter or the brain's infrastructure, as per Brainscape.

Dr. Eliot Katz of the Harvard Medical School advised parents with children suffering from sleep apnea to discuss treatment and prevention with a doctor, as per Reuters. If the kids experience symptoms like chronic snoring and breathing gaps as they sleep, it's important to have this checked.

Children with sleep apnea could suffer from tiredness during the day and mood problems. Those who are overweight and obese could be at great risk as well.

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