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Sleep Disorders

My son has Down syndrome and sleep apnea

06/05/2008

Question:

My son had a test last night for sleep apnea, and was scared of the mask. I`m afraid he will die. He is over weight and he is like a child. I don`t know what to do.

Answer:

Children with Down's Syndrome have a higher incidence of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) than normal children. While the information you provided is limited, and I don’t have the age of your child, I would guess that your son had an overnight sleep study that detected sleep apnea. It sounds like OSA was diagnosed during the first part of the night, and that during the second part of the sleep study, the sleep technician tried to place a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) mask on your son's nose. CPAP is one of the usual treatments for OSA.

In order to provide adequate advice, I would need to know additional history, the results of the sleep study, and be able to examine your son. For example, it would be helpful to know if your son has had any previous upper airway surgery (or any surgeries) and what his upper airway examination looks like.

Based on the limited information in your note, I would suggest that your child be seen by a Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist if he is under the age of 15 years. If he's not a candidate for any surgeries, then I would suggest that he be seen at a Pediatric Sleep Center affiliated with a Children’s hospital. These centers have expertise in managing cases such as your sons and should be able to provide treatment options. One example of how they may help is by trying special desensitization programs that enable children to wear the mask at night to help their breathing.

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Response by:

Mark   Splaingard, MD Mark Splaingard, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University