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  • Writer's pictureCAFF Team


Updated: Jun 28, 2022

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.

airway obstruction in children

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.


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:

  • Snoring

  • Noisy eating

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Dry mouth

  • 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


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.

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