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Mild OSA spontaneously resolves in about one-third of young children



Mild obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) resolves in about one-third of children younger than age 3 years after an observation period of 3-12 months, results from a single-center study showed.

Douglas C. Von Allmen

Douglas C. Von Allmen

“OSA affects up to 6% of the pediatric population, and diagnosis of young children can be particularly challenging due to the heterogeneity of presenting symptoms,” Douglas C. von Allmen, MD, said at the Triological Society’s Combined Sections Meeting. “While school-age children may present with snoring, that’s less common in the younger population. Up to one-quarter of infants may have noisy breathing, which may mimic obstructive events throughout the first 3 years of life. Additionally, long-term clinical implications of mild sleep apnea in very young children is unclear.”

According to Dr. von Allmen, a fifth-year otolaryngology resident at the University of Cincinnati, management strategies of children with OSA can include a period of observation, particularly when there’s an absence of concerning findings on polysomnography (PSG), such as hypoventilation or significant hypoxia, or when the primary etiology of the OSA is unknown. “Additionally, few studies at this point have attempted to characterize the natural history of mild OSA in pediatric patients under 3 years of age,” he said.

In an effort to assess the effects of observation on the PSG outcomes of children under 3 years with mild OSA, Dr. Von Allmen and his colleagues performed a retrospective review of 26 children who had an overnight PSG with a follow-up PSG performed 3-12 months later. They excluded patients with neuromuscular disease, tracheostomy, or interstitial lung disease. All PSGs were performed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center between 2012 and 2017 and were scored by a board-certified sleep physician. The researchers defined mild OSA as at least one, but fewer than five, events per hour. The mean age of the 26 patients was 7 months, 65% were male, 92% were white, and their median body mass index was in the 39th percentile. Comorbidities include laryngomalacia (40%), cardiac disease (40%), allergies (34%), asthma (23%), and Down syndrome (11%).

Between baseline and follow-up, the apnea-hypoapnea index (AHI) trended downward from 4.3 to 3.4 events per hour (P = .19), the obstructive AHI decreased significantly from 2.7 to 1.3 events per hour (P = .013), while the central apnea index also trended downward from 1.4 to 1.2 events per hour (P = .60). The oxyhemoglobin nadir and sleep efficiency did not change significantly, but there was a decrease in the arousal index (from 14.7 to 13 events per hour; P = .027) and in the percentage of REM sleep (from 33% to 30%; P = .008).

As for postobservation OSA severity outcomes, eight patients (31%) resolved spontaneously, one patient progressed from mild to moderate OSA, and the rest remained in their mild OSA state. Subanalysis revealed that OSA resolution rate was 36% in patients with laryngomalacia, compared with 27% in those with no laryngomalacia, a difference that did not reach statistical significance (P = .98).

Dr. von Allmen pointed out that the study cohort had comorbidities which may have contributed to the persistence of OSA. He also acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its retrospective nature, the potential for selection bias, the small sample size, and the fact that it did not include a control sample of normal children. “The presence of laryngomalacia did not affect the resolution rate in our cohort, but we’ll need larger studies to better elucidate the factors that do affect persistent disease and to identify the optimal timing of intervention in children with mild OSA,” he said.

Dr. von Allmen reported having no financial disclosures. The study received a resident research award at the meeting, which was jointly sponsored by the Triological Society and the American College of Surgeons.

SOURCE: von Allmen DC et al. Triological CSM, Abstracts.

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