FRIDAY, March 24, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Children with troublesome sleep apnea don't always use the "gold standard" therapy -- a pressurized nighttime air mask -- consistently enough to provide them with maximum benefit, a new study suggests.
The therapy, called positive airway pressure (PAP), involves having the sleeping patient wear a breathing mask that delivers a gentle, steady flow of air, which significantly improves breathing and oxygen levels when used regularly. The therapy improves the quality of sleep and daytime alertness.
"Despite improvements with even irregular use of the device, parents often say children are using PAP when the study shows they are not," researcher Dr. Ann Halbower, a pediatric pulmonologist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, said in a prepared statement.
"Obstructive sleep apnea can cause learning, memory and IQ problems. Additionally, it affects breathing and oxygen levels, and while PAP therapy helps the apnea, the maximum benefits come only over time and with consistent use," she said.
As reported in the March issue of Pediatrics, the study included 29 children, aged 2 to 16, who underwent sleep testing and were instructed to use the PAP masks at home every night. Twenty children returned six months later for a follow-up sleep study. Their parents were interviewed about the children's use of the PAP masks. Researchers also analyzed usage data recorded by a meter in the PAP devices.
The follow-up sleep study showed that the children's sleep apnea went from severe to mild or better. However, 78 percent of the parents revealed that their children did not use the PAP device every night. Even the children who did use the device every night did so for an average of only five hours a night. This is insufficient, given children's long sleep hours, the researchers said.
They also found that parents tended to overestimate children's use of the PAP device by about two hours.
The study did not examine the reasons why children may not adhere to PAP therapy guidelines. Further research is needed to explore the reasons and to develop treatments for children with sleep apnea who can't tolerate PAP, the researchers said.
About 2 percent of American children have obstructive sleep apnea.
The Nemours Foundation has more about children and sleep apnea.