What is obstructive sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a condition that causes breathing to be repeatedly blocked during sleep. Children with OSA have brief breathing pauses (apneas) that occur often throughout the night, disrupting sleep.


Symptoms of OSA can also vary, but common symptoms may include:

  • snoring
  • breathing pauses during sleep that end in a gasp, snore, snort or sigh
  • waking often during the night
  • tiredness, moodiness, irritability or hyperactivity during the day
  • difficulty waking in the morning
  • dry mouth or headaches in the morning


To diagnose OSA, your child’s doctor may request a sleep study (polysomnogram) to measure your child’s breathing, oxygen levels, heart rate, body movements and sleep disruptions during sleep.


Treatment for OSA may include:

  • weight loss if the child is overweight
  • medications to reduce nasal congestion
  • dental appliances to hold the airway open
  • using a bi-level positive airway pressure (CPAP or BiPAP) machine to keep the airway open during sleep
  • muscle retraining of the upper airway (myofunctional therapy)
  • surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids, if they are enlarged

Learn more about Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy, Immunology and Sleep services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.