Dangerous dreams: new Monash research reveals the health consequences of children’s snoring

snoring

New research from Monash University – that will continue to be undertaken at the newly opened Monash Children’s Hospital - reveals this snoring is not harmless but may have long term cardiovascular, neurocognitive and behavioural implications.

Up to 30 per cent of children snore, with pre-schoolers more likely to be affected than older children. Approximately five per cent of children will suffer from obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), when the airways briefly collapse during sleep, blood oxygen levels fall and sleep is disrupted. Most Australian parents believe their child’s snoring is harmless and something they will grow out of.

Monash Professor Rosemary Horne and her team studied 136 children aged 7-12 years and 128 children aged 3-5 years to examine the consequences of snoring and OSA. Children were then followed up three to four years later to examine the effects of treatment or resolution of symptoms.

The team found that pre-school children who snore had normal blood pressure and neurocognitive development but had increased reports of poor behaviour. The older, school aged children (7-12 years) had:

  • Increased blood pressure of 10-15 mmHg
  • Increased reports of poor behaviour
  • Reduced intellectual ability

When they were followed up, any improvement in severity of snoring or OSA was associated with improvements in blood pressure and behaviour but not cognitive function. According to Professor Horne, the findings that consequences are more severe in older children indicate that the long term effects of snoring are cumulative, impacting on the child’s cardiovascular health, as well as on long term behaviour, learning and cognitive development.

Previous studies have shown that oxygen concentration in the blood (measured with a sensor on the finger) is the same between the snoring children and those that didn’t snore – suggesting that low oxygen is either not the explanation for the findings or the current methods of measuring this may not be sensitive enough.

Professor Horne is currently using MRI scans and direct non-invasive measurements of oxygen levels in the brain to determine whether there are more subtle effects of oxygen deprivation happening in the brains of children who snore, affecting blood pressure and behaviour.

Professor Horne said the most common cause of childhood snoring is enlarged tonsils and adenoids. More than 50,000 Australian children have a tonsillectomy and/or an adenoidectomy each year, many of which are for sleep apnoea. “Our results indicate that snoring and sleep apnoea have important implications for children’s health and parents should consider getting medical advice about the need for surgery,” Professor Horne said.

The MRI study, led by Professor Horne, will continue in the Melbourne Children’s Sleep Centre in the new Monash Children’s Hospital , officially opened on 28 March 2017.

The Monash Children’s Hospital is located at the Monash Medical Centre Campus in Clayton and adjoins the Monash Health Translation Precinct.

Monash University is the hospital’s lead teaching and translational research partner: its innovative approach to education and teaching and its world-leading translational research in paediatrics will help enable the hospital to provide both exceptional health care and training for the future workforce.