Snoring isn't just the funny noise that grandpa makes when he takes a nap. It can be a troublesome sign, especially in kids.

“Snoring in kids is not normal,” says Stacey Ishman, MD, MPH, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Cincinnati Children’s who is also certified in Sleep Medicine. “About 10 to 20 percent of children snore. And we know there are decreases in school and learning performance in children who snore versus those who don’t.”

The Snoring-Behavior Link

A number of studies have been published about the harm that sleep-related breathing problems can cause – from poor memory and lower IQ scores to behavioral problems and hyperactivity. Experts believe that the problems stem from the poor quality of sleep experienced by children who snore.

There are are a number of possible causes, but the No. 1 reason for troubled breathing and snoring in kids, says Ishman, is enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

If you hear your child snoring, or if he develops otherwise unexplainable problems with school or behavior changes and you suspect it might be because he is losing sleep, it’s best to get to the bottom of it – and soon. 

What to Do

The first step is to talk with your pediatrician,” Ishman says. “The most important thing is to figure out if it’s snoring or sleep apnea.”

In sleep apnea, breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep. Left untreated, it can have long-term health consequences. But it’s not easy to identify in children. So the best approach to start may be “watchful waiting,” Ishman says.

“Kids’ tonsils and adenoids grow between the ages of 2 and 6. So I would likely say to the parent of a 7-year-old, ‘Your child’s tonsils might get smaller over the next six months, so let’s just watch.’ A study in the last year reported that nearly 40 percent of mild sleep apnea in kids resolves with just waiting.”

If the problem doesn’t improve with time, a sleep study in a special pediatric sleep laboratory is the only way to determine whether or not your child has apnea, Ishman says. Some sleep apnea and snoring can be managed with medications. If the problem is caused by enlarged tonsils and  adenoids, surgery might be recommended. 

Improvement After Surgery

Regardless of the cause, seeking help for your child’s snoring is important, because it can be fixed. “And a number of studies have shown that the problems associated with children’s snoring are reversible,” says Ishman.