'We had no idea': boy's snoring a sign of something more serious

Donna Stolzenberg and son Jonah.
Donna Stolzenberg and son Jonah. Photo: Supplied

While it's not unheard of for children to snore, for many it could be a sign there's something more serious going on.

For Donna Stolzenberg's 11-year-old son Jonah, who has autism and is non-verbal, his snoring was an indication he had bigger issues that needed attention.

"We had no idea he was snoring so badly as his bedroom was at the back end of the house," the Melbourne mum said.

"We had friends stay over so popped him into our room for the night on a spare mattress. I was horrified to hear how badly he was snoring, along with prolonged periods of apnoea.

"We took him to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist who diagnosed him with enlarged tonsils and enlarged nasal turbinates."

Soon after his diagnosis, he had surgery to move his tonsils and shave down his turbinates. 

"We noticed a difference on the first night after surgery," she said.

"His snoring has now been reduced by around 95 per cent."

Prior to his surgery, he had dark rings under his eyes and was an extremely poor sleeper, waking numerous times during the night. Now, he is sleeping much more soundly. 

Advertisement

"He no longer tosses and turns all night. He hardly makes a noise now but prior to surgery was louder than an old man. To listen to him was absolutely frightening," she said.

"Seeing him struggle for breath in his sleep prior to the surgery was extremely upsetting. I felt guilty that this had most likely been going on for years and I had absolutely no idea. 

"I'm extremely relieved he is sleeping better but more so that he is breathing with ease."

Her advice to other parents was to get children checked immediately by an ENT specialist if you hear them snoring. 

"Our son's turbinates were enlarged which is almost always due to an allergy," she said.

"We are now going through allergy testing as well."

According to Better Health Victoria, up to 15 per cent of children snore.

Snoring can be a result of a cold, blocked nose and large tonsils and or/adenoids. If your child snores for a long time, breathes through their mouth or seems to gasp, struggle for breath or choke, and has a restless, interrupted sleep it could also be a sign of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA). 

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners spokesperson Dr Charlotte Hespe said while snoring was common among children it should not be regarded as normal.

"If a child has only recently been observed to be snoring it could be a sign of a respiratory infection. This would usually come with other symptoms, such as a runny nose, tiredness and sore throat," Dr Hespe said.

"If a child is regularly snoring, more than three nights a week, and doesn't have a respiratory infection it could be a sign of OSA – a condition where the airway is repeatedly obstructed during sleep, leading to hypoxia or disturbed sleep. 

"While this condition only affects one to five per cent of children, it has implications for learning, behaviour and cardiovascular health, so needs to be taken seriously. Signs to watch for include persistent snoring or noisy breathing during sleep, and mouth breathing during the day."

If you're unsure what's causing your child to snore, it's a good idea to chat to your doctor.

"If your child is snoring it's no reason to panic," she said.

"If a parent is concerned about their child's snoring, they should book an appointment with their family GP – they will be able to assess your child's health and advise on any treatments they might need."

Here are some common treatments for snoring:

  • If a blocked nose is causing the snoring, your GP might get your child to try a corticosteroid nasal spray.
  • If your child has recently gained some weight, your GP might suggest a gentle exercise and weight loss program.
  • If it's suspected an allergy was causing the snoring, then you might be referred to an allergist.
  • If your child's snoring is linked to OSA caused by enlarged adenoids or tonsils or a nose obstruction, your GP might refer you to a surgeon or ear, nose and throat specialist for advice about having surgery.
  • If the snoring isn't caused by something more serious like sleep apnoea it's usually more of a nuisance than a danger. Encourage your child to sleep on their side, rather than their back.