Is It ADHD or Sleep Apnea?

One of the most commonly diagnosed disorders in children is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is a condition that varies widely in kids. Over 6 million children in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD. There are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined. The condition can also vary from mild to severe and can affect adults as well.  And it is diagnosed mostly by evaluating symptoms and behavior.

There are many technical criteria that have to be present in the child to reach a diagnosis of ADHD.  However, many of these criteria are behaviors also associated with sleep-disordered breathing.  Many children diagnosed with ADHD have been found to have sleep-disordered breathing problems and these problems actually become worse with the use of medications which are usually prescribed for ADHD.

Both ADHD and sleep-disordered breathing are real conditions, and both are very serious.  Since the symptoms are so similar, it is important to determine which condition is causing these symptoms.  A simple sleep test, done either at home or in a sleep lab, can determine if the symptoms are from sleep-disordered breathing. And if sleep-disordered breathing (usually obstructive sleep apnea) is the cause of these symptoms, the treatment protocol is entirely different from the treatment protocol for ADHD.

In the case of sleep-disordered breathing, the cause may be as simple as large tonsils and/or adenoids. In adults, a simple oral appliance may be the treatment protocol.  In children, removal of the tonsils and/or adenoids might be the only treatment needed.  An appointment with a qualified, experienced sleep physician, an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) physician, or a dentist experienced in oral appliance therapy might be a place to start if the sleep study is positive for sleep-disordered breathing.

Remember: both conditions are very serious and can be treated.