Imaging shows how snoring changes children’s brains

A new brain imaging study has shown how snoring, or sleep disordered breathing, in children may lead to changes in parts of the brain that control blood pressure, learning and behaviour – and should be treated as early as possible.

Professor Rosemary Horne

The findings of the study led by Professor Rosemary Horne’s team in The Ritchie Centre, Hudson Institute, together with collaborators from UCLA, Monash Health and Monash University, have been published in the journal Sleep.

Prof Horne’s team used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) studies to visualise the brain in a group of 18 children with sleep disordered breathing and 20 non-snoring control children.

“We know that children with snoring and obstructive sleep apnoea have elevated blood pressure, along with behavioural and learning problems. We wanted to understand how changes to tissue in the brain were associated with sleep disordered breathing in children,” Prof Horne says.

Changes in blood pressure, learning and memory and behaviour

The team identified that children with sleep disordered breathing exhibited changes in areas of the brain associated with blood pressure control, learning and memory and behaviour, correlating with their symptoms.

“Most of the changes were acute, which means the brain should return to normal following treatment,” Prof Horne says.

“Yet, some of these changes in the brain were chronic, meaning the damage has occurred over a longer period, and this may require additional treatment or take a longer time to return to normal after treatment.”

Prof Horne says children with snoring or sleep breathing disorders should be treated as early as possible, generally with adenotonsillectomy in cases where tonsils and adenoids are enlarged.

“We have shown that treatment of sleep breathing disorders lowers blood pressure but may not have significant effects on improving behaviour or learning, particularly in older children. Parents need to be aware that snoring is not benign and to ensure the best outcomes for their child they should seek medical advice so that children can be treated as early as possible,” she says.

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