Obstructive sleep apnea in infants

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012 Apr 15;185(8):805-16. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201108-1455CI. Epub 2011 Dec 1.


Obstructive sleep apnea in infants has a distinctive pathophysiology, natural history, and treatment compared with that of older children and adults. Infants have both anatomical and physiological predispositions toward airway obstruction and gas exchange abnormalities; including a superiorly placed larynx, increased chest wall compliance, ventilation-perfusion mismatching, and ventilatory control instability. Congenital abnormalities of the airway, such as laryngomalacia, hemangiomas, pyriform aperture stenosis, choanal atresia, and laryngeal webs, may also have adverse effects on airway patency. Additional exacerbating factors predisposing infants toward airway collapse include neck flexion, airway secretions, gastroesophageal reflux, and sleep deprivation. Obstructive sleep apnea in infants has been associated with failure to thrive, behavioral deficits, and sudden infant death. The proper interpretation of infant polysomnography requires an understanding of normative data related to gestation and postconceptual age for apnea, arousal, and oxygenation. Direct visualization of the upper airway is an important diagnostic modality in infants with obstructive apnea. Treatment options for infant obstructive sleep apnea are predicated on the underlying etiology, including supraglottoplasty for severe laryngomalacia, mandibular distraction for micrognathia, tonsillectomy and/or adenoidectomy, choanal atresia repair, and/or treatment of gastroesophageal reflux.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoids / pathology
  • Adenoids / surgery
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / complications*
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy / pathology
  • Hypertrophy / surgery
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Laryngomalacia / complications
  • Laryngomalacia / congenital
  • Larynx / abnormalities
  • Male
  • Micrognathism / complications
  • Micrognathism / diagnosis
  • Palatine Tonsil / pathology
  • Palatine Tonsil / surgery
  • Polysomnography / methods
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology*
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome