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It’s All in Your Head: Mouth Breathing and Snoring in Children

It’s All in Your Head: Mouth Breathing and Snoring in Children

In my day-to-day medical practice of the specialty of ENT I see patients ranging from infants just a few days old, to folks in their 90s.  This month I would like to focus on children, especially those under the age of 10 who often present with difficulty breathing through their nose and mouth breathing.

First of all a very straightforward sentence: Children should never snore.  We have learned quite a lot in both the medical and dental fields of science concerning the development of the upper airway from the nose to the throat.  I have to say that many of my colleagues in the field of dentistry as well as speech pathology have been at the forefront of understanding this area.

I have written that it is important for adults to breathe through their nose as part of overall general health.  We now know that growing children need to keep their lips together and quietly breathe through the nose to properly develop the upper and lower jaws.

Children who either snore or have noisy breathing during sleep with open-mouths have been shown to have less energy and a weaker immune system.  Additionally, there is a very strong, proven association between poor sleep in children and behavioral issues including attention deficit disorder.  In plain terms, the child who does not get into the deepest sleep patterns simply cannot focus and pay attention during the day.  Many children are going to school with the equivalent of 2-3 hours of brain rest and recharging.

Fortunately, it is relatively easy to correct nasal obstruction and mouth breathing in children.  The source of the obstruction is usually not in the nasal passage, but farther back where the throat and nose come together in tissue known as the adenoids.  Adenoids are made of the same type of white blood cells as tonsils and frequently are large in children starting as early as 18 months and can stay large until age 8-10.

I must admit that one of the most gratifying things that I can do in my practice is identifying a child with large adenoids and/or tonsils then see their life drastically improve after opening up their nasal passages with a relatively simple and very safe surgical procedure.  If nothing is done, snoring children almost always becomes snoring adults and they are much more difficult to fix.

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