Updated: Jun 28
Without a doubt, there is a reciprocal relationship between airway and brain function. The brain needs a steady, healthy stream of oxygen in order to operate and the respiratory system needs the brain to manage operations.
When this relationship is challenged, due to a blocked or obstructed airway, for example, the brain can become damaged causing long-term health impacts that can be found throughout a child's body.
Undiagnosed or untreated airway obstruction can cause acquired brain injury through the act of stopping breathing (apnea) or preventing the appropriate amount of oxygen from getting to a child's brain. Without the required oxygen, the neural cells begin to die and brain damage or dysfunction occurs.
"Because apnea can lead to hypoxia and further brain damage if it lasts too long, it’s crucial to get it treated as soon as possible." ~ Andrew Tran, PT, DPT, NCS, CSCS
Once the brain is impacted, residual effects can be found throughout the body manifesting in other health issues such as high blood pressure, facial deformities, emotional and mental issues, and consistent exhaustion.
SIGNS OF AIRWAY ISSUES IN CHILDREN
Airway disorders include a wide variety of conditions that affect a child’s breathing passages. One of the most common signs of an airway issue in a child is chronic mouth breathing, both when they are awake and asleep. Chronic mouth breathing occurs in 10-15% of young children.
Mouth breathing can occur infrequently, like when a child has a cold or allergies. However, if it is a daily occurrence, there is a real danger to the child's long-term health, oral health, and mental state.
Research shows that when we breathe through our mouths there is an increase in oxygen in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain affects personality expression, decision making and social behaviour. ~ Sydney Holistic Dental Center
A tongue-based obstruction (TBO) is a developmental defect that causes the tongue to fully or partly block a child’s airway. This is more commonly referred to as a tongue-tie. Though there are varying degrees of tongue-based obstructions, all can cause significant breathing and feeding issues.
Here are a few of the signs to watch for if you suspect your child might have an airway issue:
Bad breath or strong mouth odor
Constant dry mouth or cracked lips
Crying or bedwetting at night
Increased throat and ear infections
Development of sleep disorders such as insomnia
Inability to wake up in the morning --- tired all-day
Diagnosed as having ADHD or experiencing poor performance in school suddenly
Trouble concentrating in school due to 'brain fog' --- inability to problem solve
Tiredness or irritability all day even after getting plenty of rest
There are also physical signs that your child might be displaying that could indicate that your child is a mouth breather:
Crooked teeth and overcrowding
Uneven face and jaw symmetry
Overly visible gums
A narrow mouth
Tongue-tie, cheek-tie, or lisp when speaking
Sunken eyes and dark circles
Slouching with head pushing forward
A high v-shaped pallet in their mouth
WHEN YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR PEDIATRIC DENTIST OR PEDIATRICIAN?
Children who aren't sleeping well may be unable to focus, be irritable, or show poor impulse control. Consult a doctor whenever you notice any abnormal sleep symptoms.