Obstructive sleep apnoea presenting as failure to thrive in infancy

J Paediatr Child Health. 1995 Jun;31(3):172-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.1995.tb00779.x.


Objective: To study the postoperative outcome of infants under the age of 18 months in whom an adenotonsillectomy had been performed, with particular emphasis on the pre- and postoperative weight gain and linear growth velocities, and the resolution of symptoms of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

Methodology: A retrospective study of all infants in whom an adenotonsillectomy had been performed during the 5 year period to January 1990. Details of pre- and postoperative outcome variables were obtained by review of hospital and office records and by telephone calls to the parents.

Results: Complete data were available for 29 (76%) of the 38 infants in whom an adenotonsillectomy had been performed. The data from these infants are reported. Pre-operatively, all infants had clinical symptoms of OSA, and 52% of infants also presented with failure to thrive (FTT). Seven infants were dysmorphic: three had Down syndrome, three had a craniofacial anomaly and one infant had Mobius syndrome. Following adenotonsillectomy, 23 infants (79%) had complete resolution of their OSA symptoms. Two infants with Down syndrome required a tracheostomy to relieve persistent upper airway obstruction. Eighty-seven per cent of the infants with pre-operative FTT had a significant increase in weight gain velocity postoperatively (mean 195.1 +/- 80.8 s.d. vs 509.8 +/- 249.1 g/month; P < 0.001), including the infants with mild persistent symptoms of OSA. The weight gain velocity of infants who were not failing to thrive pre-operatively did not change significantly following adenotonsillectomy (328.1 +/- 106.9 vs 333.2 +/- 146.4 g/month; P = 0.82). The linear growth velocity of all infants did not change significantly postoperatively.

Conclusions: OSA should be considered in infants with FTT, as adenotonsillectomy is an effective treatment for OSA in infancy, and the weight gain velocity of these infants may increase significantly postoperatively. Overnight oximetry or other physiological studies may be required if the clinical signs and symptoms of OSA are equivocal.

MeSH terms

  • Adenoidectomy*
  • Failure to Thrive / etiology*
  • Female
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / complications
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / surgery*
  • Tonsillectomy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Gain