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Tonsil and Adenoid Removal Resolves Sleep Apnoea Issues in Children

Children experiencing sleep difficulties continue to suffer health problems even during periods of so-called “normal” sleep, but new research has found that surgical removal of adenoids and tonsils reverses these problems and may lead to improvements in brain development and behaviour.

Information gathered in sleep studies – such as brain, muscle, breathing and heart activity – is used by sleep clinics to determine whether children have had an adverse event during the night or if their sleep has been considered normal. A team led by A/Prof Mathias Baumert from Adelaide University analysed such data collected from children with sleep apnoea, which is linked with cognitive and behavioural issues among children.

“For the first time, our research has uncovered key indicators that show children with sleep-disordered breathing, or sleep apnoea, may be experiencing problems even during periods of so-called ‘normal’ sleep,” Baumert said.

PhD student Sarah Immanuel explained that, even during normal sleep, children who have sleep apnoea take longer to inhale and exhale than a healthy child. “This shows that a breathing abnormality persists throughout all periods of sleep. Such a deficit in breathing may have implications for brain development,” she said.

Immanuel also discovered that the signals sent from the heart to the brain every time the heart beats – known as a “heartbeat-evoked potential” – appear to be abnormal in these children. “The presence of a reduced heartbeat-evoked potential provides a novel marker that the internal processing of information from the body to the brain is dysfunctional in these children,” Immanuel says.

Immanuel found that these indicators improved after surgery. “All of these issues were reversed in children who received surgery to remove their adenoids and tonsils,” she says.