Snoring may increase risk of learning problems in some children

May 19, 2003

SEATTLE--Some children who snore may be at increased risk of learning problems, according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference.

Snoring is common in childhood, with reported prevalence between 3.2 percent and 12.1 percent. A subset of these children have a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea, in which the airways become obstructed and the child stops breathing briefly multiple times throughout the night. Obstructive sleep apnea has been shown to increase the risk of learning and behavioral problems in children. However until now, it has not been known whether children who snore but who do not have sleep apnea also are at risk for these problems.

Louise M. O'Brien, Ph.D., Research Fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville, studied 87 children, ages 5 to 7, who snored but who did not have sleep apnea, and compared them with 31 children of the same age who didn't snore. All of the children slept in a sleep lab overnight, and all their major body functions, including breathing, heart rate and brain waves, were monitored throughout the night. The next morning, the children were given a series of tests that measured learning abilities, attention and general intelligence, while parents answered questions about the children's behavior.

Children who snored performed significantly worse on tests of attention, language abilities and overall intelligence, Dr. O'Brien said.

"We found that snoring alone in the absence of any disease is associated with increased risk of cognitive problems in children," she added. "We don't yet have enough information to know which children who snore are vulnerable to these problems. More work needs to be done to understand snoring in children, and how it affects learning and behavior." She commented that learning and behavioral problems in children who snore may be due to sleep disturbances and occasional lack of oxygen from the snoring.

She suggested that children who snore frequently and have learning or behavioral issues should be evaluated by a sleep specialist to see whether they suffer from sleep apnea. Research has shown that children with sleep apnea who are treated by having their adenoids and tonsils removed, will experience improvements in learning, she said. "We still don't know however whether children who snore but don't have sleep apnea can be helped with treatment," she said.

American Thoracic Society

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