Far from a simple snoring problem, sleep apnea has been proven again and again to be incredibly dangerous. This sleep breathing disorder doesn’t just impact daily quality of life, but increases your risk of premature death by three times. Untreated sleep apnea puts you at heightened risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, depression, and even heart disease — the number one killer of people worldwide.

While statistics show that sleep apnea is most common in adult males, that certainly doesn’t mean other demographics are safe. In fact, the assumption that sleep apnea is limited to older men has led to failures to diagnose the disorder in women. Worst of all, this assumption is also putting children at risk.

Although it certainly isn’t as common in children as it is in adults, young people can still be plagued by sleep apnea and suffer the associated health risks. In fact, more than 3% of children are estimated to have obstructive sleep apnea. While that’s less than half the number of adults with sleep apnea, it’s still millions of children who may be suffering from chronic bed wetting, depression, and as one recent study found, even brain damage.

Child with Sleep Apnea Awake on a Bed

Sleep Apnea Depletes Gray Matter

A recent study from the University of Chicago Medical Center put the spotlight on children between the ages of 7 and 11 with sleep apnea, and found something ominous.

Researchers worked with a group of sixteen children diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea. Subjects were observed overnight at a pediatric sleep laboratory, and also underwent cognitive testing and an MRI scan. These results were then compared with those of similar children who did not suffer from sleep apnea.

The researchers described the results as “striking,” but parents might choose a stronger word. The children with sleep apnea had extensive reduction in the volume of gray matter, which is a material in the brain that is essential to everything from problem solving to cardiovascular function to language and beyond.

Sleep Apnea Impacts Cognition

Of course, children aren’t the only ones whose cognition can be affected by sleep apnea. Studies have repeatedly linked obstructive sleep apnea diagnoses to increased risk and earlier onset of cognitive decline.

If there is any bright side to the many frightening health effects of sleep apnea, it’s that these effects can be mitigated by treatment. While untreated sleep apnea can literally kill you, those same health risks functionally disappear when sleep apnea is effectively and appropriately treated.

There are a few different ways to treat sleep apnea. One commonly prescribed treatment is CPAP, a specially-designed breathing device worn by patients while they sleep. While CPAP can be effective, many find it to be uncomfortable and difficult to sleep with. Luckily, CPAP isn’t the only option. For children, surgery is often recommended.

If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, an experienced sleep dentist can fill you in on some CPAP alternatives to reduce your health risks comfortably and effectively. Call (303) 691-0267 or contact us online today to make an appointment.