One mom in Virginia is warning parents about the symptoms of sleep apnea in children after her son was almost mistakenly diagnosed with ADHD.
Melody Yazdani wrote in a Facebook post that’s now gone viral about how her 8-year-old son, Kian, started having behavioral issues in first grade. “Parent teacher conferences, new reward system in place, and it seems to improve,” she wrote. “But at home it did anything but. When Kian gets angry, he gets ANGRY. He gets fixated on little things (there is a hair in the shower, it’s gross! I can’t shower in there! *melt down commences*), his fuse gets shorter and shorter, and he’s a picky eater who barely eats.
“Second grade rolls around, and oh boy. While other kids are outgrowing their tantrums, Kian’s intensify and turn into daily spectacles, triggered by the smallest thing,” she wrote. “The behavior reports from school start rolling in. ‘Kian is pushing,’ ‘Kian can’t control his impulses,’ ‘Kian is having a hard time staying in his seat,’ and it going on and on. Almost daily. And I’m mortified. Every morning it’s tantrum after tantrum, before we even get out of bed. Hitting, and throwing things, and the screaming. All the screaming. Starting at 5AM every morning. We were at a loss — how did he become this way, what could be have done different?”
Kian started seeing a therapist, who recommended ADHD testing. “Meanwhile, in the background, Kian has a persistent cough that just won’t go away, so we are also seeing a pulmonologist, and, against the advice of the pulmonologist, an allergist,” Yazdani wrote. “The therapist is dancing around ADHD, pushing us in that direction. At a cleaning, Kian’s dentist makes an offhand comment about his teeth — they were ground almost half way down, he’s grinding his teeth at night.”
Yazdani says she then “stumbled upon an article that changed our life,” explaining how “it all clicked into place” after reading the piece in the Washington Post.
The article talked about the connection between ADHD, sleep-disordered breathing, and mouth breathing. “Every word in this article sounded like Kian,” she wrote.
“The connection — it was really a lot of luck,” Yazdani tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I had suspicions that something was not right with Kian. In addition to the escalating behavior problems, he had dark under-eye circles, despite a strict bedtime of 7:30 p.m. every night. I was in the process of ruling [out] whatever I could.”
The mom says she “immediately” scheduled appointments with a pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist, an orthodontist, and a sleep center. “All of the doctors were skeptical at first glance — here’s a mom with no medical degree who thinks she’s figured out what is wrong with her child — but agreed to schedule the tests that would provide definitive answers for us: sinus imaging and a sleep study,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The sinus imaging was shocking — all of his sinuses were almost completely blocked and inflamed, but we waited for the sleep study results to move forward with the next step.”
The sleep study, Yazdani revealed in her Facebook post, also had shocking results. “He got exactly 0 minutes of REM sleep during the first study, and oxygen saturation in the low 80 percent,” she wrote. “We had no idea that Kian had a headache daily, but it was just his normal so he never thought to tell us. Kian had his tonsils and adenoids removed and the change was immediate. He could breathe through his nose as he came out of surgery, where he couldn’t when they wheeled him in.”
Yazdani said other changes were also noticeable right away. “We have seen a complete 180 in behavior. No more angry tantrums, no more fixation on little OCD things, it’s been an enormous change. And we haven’t even finished the second step — fixing his jaw and tongue issues that developed during the course of undiagnosed sleep apnea. Our followup sleep study? 360 minutes of REM sleep, and oxygen saturation above the minimum threshold. No behavior reports in school. His appetite has exploded, he’s no longer a picky eater, and he had a huge growth spurt two weeks after the surgery. He still has mild sleep apnea, but the frequency in the night was cut in half, and the duration of each episode was cut in half. If we see this much of a change now, I can only imagine how much it will improve once we cross the finish line.”
Yazdani says Kian’s mouth-breathing should have been a tip-off, along with the ADHD-like symptoms he was experiencing, grinding his teeth, under-eye circles, and snoring.
These symptoms are “not normal and need to be addressed by a professional,” she says. “Based on my reading, it is prudent for parents to insist on a sleep study if they are discussing a possible ADHD diagnosis,” she adds.
Board-certified sleep medicine doctor and neurologist W. Christopher Winter of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine agrees. “I personally feel that no child should be diagnosed with ADHD unless they’ve had some kind of sleep evaluation,” says Winter, author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How To Fix It. “That should definitely be a consideration. Anything that affects a child’s sleep is going to create sleepiness the next day.”
Children don’t show signs of sleepiness the same way adults do, he says. “They seem hyperactive and do things to try to combat it,” Winter says. “A lot of them are very inattentive and misbehave.” When a child is diagnosed with ADHD, they’ll often be given a stimulant like Adderall, which can help mask the symptoms. “But you haven’t fixed the problem; you’ve just covered it up,” Winter tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Although Yazdani says in her Facebook post that children should never breathe through their mouths, Winter says that’s not 100 percent true. “It’s not bad for them to breathe through their mouths, but it could be a sign of something bad,” he says.
Winter recommends parents look out for snoring, poor behavioral reports at school, frequent nighttime wake-ups, and wetting the bed — those can all be subtle signs of sleep apnea.
If your child has signs of ADHD but you suspect that their symptoms could be due to sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about getting a sleep study. “A sleep study is easy, and it could be a game changer,” Winter says.
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