SLEEP APNEA IN INFANTS
Sleep apnea in infants is unexplained lapses in breathing during sleep, leading to lack of oxygen to the brain and heart with life-threatening heartbeat irregularity. This can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a mysterious tragedy that kills apparently healthy infants. The central nervous system--including the brain, the coverings of the brain (meninges), and the spinal cord -- and peripheral nerves are involved. Sleep apnea can affect infants of both sexes.
Appropriate health care includes:
Home care that includes monitoring equipment and close, constant observation.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Episodes when the infant's breathing stops and skin color changes. Episodes may last several minutes. Breathing usually resumes spontaneously. Unless death occurs, these episodes are apparent only with careful observation by hospital nurses or parents during the first weeks after birth.
RISK FACTORSPrematurity or low birth weight.
Being a young mother (under 20 years old). Older mothers (over age 35) do not have a higher incidence of infants with sleep apnea, as has been theorized.
Belonging to lower socioeconomic groups.
PREVENTING COMPLICATIONS OR RECURRENCESpecial equipment (a respiration monitor) is used continuously to monitor breathing in infants that experience sleep apnea or in those suspected of being at risk for SIDS.
MEDICAL TESTSNone, except the observations of breathing lapses by persons caring for the infant.
POSSIBLE COMPLICATIONSSudden infant death syndrome. When this occurs, infants die in their sleep without signs of struggle or injury. Autopsies show no apparent cause of death. There are approximately 6,000 to 7,000 such deaths each year in the U.S. Autopsies must be performed on all SIDS victims.
As long as SIDS can be averted, infants with sleep apnea grow and develop normally. Most children are considered out of danger and can be taken off the monitor between 6 months and 1 year of age.
If your baby suffers from sleep apnea, obtain and use a respiration monitor. The manufacturer and your doctor or nurse will demonstrate and provide full instructions.
If your baby has a monitor, obtain detailed cardiopulmonary resuscitation training (CPR). In many cases, CPR can revive an infant who has stopped breathing, and the child experiences no serious aftereffects.
MEDICATIONNo medication is currently available to prevent sleep apnea in infants.
See Medications section for information regarding medicines your doctor may prescribe.
DIET & FLUIDS
No special diet. Bottle-feeding has no association with SIDS, as was once theorized.
OK TO GO TO SCHOOL?After monitoring is no longer needed and appetite has returned and alertness, strength, and feeling of well-being will allow.
CALL YOUR DOCTOR IF
Your baby has lapses in breathing (apnea). Call immediately!