Children and Sleep Apnea
apnea is estimated to affect some two to three percent of
children today (getting on for two million children in the
United States alone) and is particularly seen in children
between the ages of about three and six.
In the vast majority of cases the main cause of sleep apnea,
in this case obstructive sleep apnea, is enlarged tonsils
and/or adenoids and the preferred method of treatment is
surgery. However, research being carried out at the
University of Louisville in Kentucky may well result in
thousands of children escaping what is for many an
unpleasant and often frightening procedure.
Although the removal of tonsils and/or adenoids in children
was extremely common some years ago the practice was, until
recently, in decline, as doctors sought out alternative
treatments for childhood throat infections. However, as an
increasing number of children were diagnosed with sleep
apnea, tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy rapidly became a
common treatment for this condition and today some estimates
show that as many as ninety percent of all such operations
are carried out to cure sleep apnea, rather than throat
It seems, however, that this could well change in the not
too distant future.
Dr Goldbart, heading a research team at the University of
Louisville, has been working in this area for some time now
and presented the initial findings of his work on the
tonsillar tissue of children with sleep apnea in June 2004.
Based on these findings, Dr Goldbart’s team proposed an
alternative non-invasive treatment for mild cases of
childhood sleep apnea and has since carried out a series of
studies, the latest of which involved 40 children. The
results have now just been published and are extremely
The treatment involves the use of oral montelkast (sold
under the brand name of Singulair) which many parents may
well recognize as a common form of treatment for asthma.
In many cases of asthma breathing difficulties are caused by
inflammation of the tonsils resulting from the presence of
leukotriene receptors and Dr Goldbart and his team noticed
that these same leukotriene receptors were present in the
tonsils of children with sleep apnea. He concluded therefore
that the treatment that has proved so effective in cases of
asthma should also reduce inflammation and open up the
airway in cases of sleep apnea, and it would appear that he
It is of course still early days and a great deal more work
needs to be done, including further double-blind and
placebo-controlled studies. Nonetheless, his findings are
indeed encouraging and may well provide an alternative to
surgery for many thousands of children in the future.
Copyright 2005 Donald Saunders –