Mild Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Children: What Is the Best Management Option?

TRIO Best PracticeTRIO Best Practice articles are brief, structured reviews designed to provide the busy clinician with a handy outline and reference for day-to-day clinical decision making. The ENTtoday summaries below include the Background and Best Practice sections of the original article. To view the complete Laryngoscope articles free of charge, visit Laryngoscope. May 2019


Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by upper airway obstruction, poor sleep, and daytime sequelae such as hyperactivity. Although controversy exists regarding the ideal evaluation for children with sleep-disordered breathing, the severity of OSA is currently determined by full-night polysomnogram (PSG). Mild OSA is defined by an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) > 1 and <5. The majority (approximately 85%) of healthy school-aged children evaluated by otolaryngologists for tonsil hypertrophy and obstructive symptoms have either primary snoring or nonsevere OSA.

The treatment of mild OSA in children is controversial. There is a lack of data on the natural history of mild sleep apnea. Furthermore, a poor correlation exists between quality of life (QOL) scores and OSA severity; mild OSA in children may have a significant impact on their general health and well-being. High-quality studies comparing observation, medical management, and surgery for mild pediatric OSA are just beginning to emerge. Many of these studies use varied measures to assess outcomes. Thus, it may be difficult for providers treating children with mild OSA to counsel parents on the optimal treatment for their child.

Best Practice

Multiple therapeutic options may be effective for treating mild pediatric OSA including observation, management with anti-inflammatory medications, and surgery (Table 1). Validated instruments that assess symptom burden and the impact of OSA on QOL may be useful in determining which treatment option is most appropriate for the child. Shared decision making between caregiver, child (when appropriate), and physician may be useful in developing a management strategy for mild OSA. Data on the sequelae of mild OSA in children, including the impact of obstruction on cardiovascular parameters and neurocognition, are lacking. Future research is needed to compare long-term outcomes for the different treatment options for mild OSA in children (Laryngoscope. 2018;128:2671–2672).

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