CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - According to a recent study, more than half of parents believe that snoring signifies a good night's sleep.
But pediatricians warn that loud snoring can actually be the sign of a serious sleep disorder, one that could put your child at risk for long-term health and behavioral problems.
Kelley Ortiz remembers the night she woke to the sounds of her child, Jacqualynn, snoring.
"My husband snores pretty loud and she was giving him some competition!" Ortiz said.
She also noticed Jacqualynn coughing and gasping for air.
"She was waking up every two to three hours because she couldn't breathe," Ortiz said.
Jacqualynn was experiencing symptoms of sleep apnea which is a disorder characterized by pauses in breathing due to a blocked airway.
"When you're not breathing your oxygen level goes down," said Dr. Judith Owens of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Even small dips in oxygen can cause problems, particularly to the developing brain."
The American Academy of Pediatrics says, to the surprise of many parents, childhood sleep apnea is extremely common and more cases are popping up at sleep centers across the country, typically in children between the ages of 2 and 6.
"One of the most important risk factors is enlarged tonsils and adenoids,"
said Dr. Merrill Wise who also said that another major risk factor emerging is obesity.
"When children are overweight, some of that weight is in the neck and the structures around the airway," Wise said."And so it can have a compressive effect."
The AAP now recommends that pediatricians regularly screen for the disorder, and that parents learn the symptoms.
Treatment is often successful and can include removal of tonsils and adenoids, weight loss and a special breathing machine, known as a CPAP.
After having her tonsils and adenoids removed, the difference for 3-year-old Jacqualynn is night and day.
"she's cheerful. She's happy. She sleeps through the night," Ortiz said.
Children who have sleep apnea also tend to sweat a lot at night. Experts say that's because they're working harder to breathe.
If your child is showing signs of sleep apnea, it's important to call your pediatrician.