Helping your child overcome his fear of his sleep apnea mask is key to the success of the treatment. Without proper and consistent use of the CPAP mask, your child will continue to suffer the effects of sleep apnea, which may end up being life-threatening. It’s estimated that over 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea and that half of them don’t even know it. Symptoms in children are more difficult to recognize that they are in adults. While snoring is a common symptom in children, many children without the disorder snore as well. Other symptoms may include enlarged tonsils or adenoids, problems sleeping or restlessness, mouth breathing, excessive daytime sleepiness, problems paying attention, aggressive behavior and hyperactivity, and a failure to thrive.
Obstructive sleep apnea is more and more being diagnosed in children with behavioral problems at school. If your child is having problems at school or with his behavior and he snores loudly, you should ask your Pediatrician about OSA. Children with Downs Syndrome are particularly susceptible to the condition and should also be monitored closely by their doctor.
If your child has been diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe the use of a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or CPAP, device. This device will provide a continuous flow of pressurized air, via a hose and a mask, to your child all night while he sleeps. But many children are afraid of the mask or find it embarrassing to wear, or too uncomfortable to wear.
If your child refuses to wear his mask, the worst thing you can do is put it on him after he goes to sleep. When he wakes up and finds himself wearing the mask, he’ll panic. Try making the mask a part of your child’s normal bedtime routine. Include it right in there after brushing their teeth and a bedtime story. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, chances are they won’t either. Children often act out because we assume they’re going to and they pick up on that vibe. Let your child know that he’s expected to wear the mask and that you will do everything you can to ease his fears or discomfort, but that it’s a normal part of life and he has to accept it.
Some children will absolutely refuse to wear their mask and many parents will remove it then, to relieve their distress. But this is another mistake because it reinforces the child’s negative behavior. They’ll just keep fighting you and eventually, you’ll give up.
Try introducing your child to other children who use a CPAP mask. You’ll probably run into one or two at your pediatrician’s office. If not, ask your pediatrician if he can recommend any programs or books that will help put your child at ease. Sometimes, all it takes is one good bedtime story to put your child at ease. It’s all in the way YOU present it, though, and patience and persistence are key when trying to help your child get comfortable with his sleep apnea mask.