Sleep opens doctors’ eyes to a serious illness in kids

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Sleep opens doctors’ eyes to a serious illness in kids

The condition, doctors say, is an important health concern that unfortunately has been neglected

Cape Town bureau chief


Your child’s chronic snoring could point to a serious health problem, and doctors in Cape Town say diagnosing it could be as easy as falling asleep.
Almost 140 children did just that at Red Cross Children’s Hospital, and 33 of them had surgery within a week to relieve their severe obstructive sleep apnoea.
Their operations – mainly to remove enlarged adenoids and tonsils – saved them from possible complications including failure to thrive, hyperactivity and pulmonary hypertension.
Paediatric pulmonologist Marco Zampoli and colleagues introduced overnight testing for Red Cross patients in December 2012.
It involved spending the night in hospital wearing an oximeter, which clips to a finger and measures oxygen levels in blood.
After analysing two years worth of data involving 137 children, Zampoli said the initiative had proved itself to be a reliable way of diagnosing obstructive sleep apnoea and determining its severity.
Reporting his findings in the January edition of the South African Medical Journal, Zampoli said snoring was the most common symptom among the children, with 111 parents reporting it.
Boys were more prone to obstructive sleep apnoea, as well as children with enlarged adenoids and tonsils and those whose weight was low for their age.
Seventy-eight of the children – whose median age was 31 months – had surgery, including the 33 who were operated on urgently.
“Obstructive sleep apnoea diagnosis and management is an important but neglected child health concern,” said Zampoli.
“Clinicians should consider [it] when investigating children with unexplained poor growth.”
The oximeter used in the Red Cross tests costs less than R7,000, but Zampoli said smartphone apps that worked with oximeters, available online for as little as R400, would soon permit widescale screening and diagnosis of apnoea.
He cautioned that snoring was common in children. “The results of our study ... do not represent otherwise healthy children with habitual snoring,” he said.

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