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Pediatric obstructive sleep apnea screening is especially important for patients with sickle cell disease

Posted on June 22nd, 2020

While all patients should receive regular screenings for obstructive sleep apnea, these screenings are especially important for patients with sickle cell disease. Researchers have found that when children with sickle cell disease also have untreated obstructive sleep apnea, they experience 47% more disease complications than children with sickle cell disease who do not have sleep apnea.   

The most common complications in these kids are lung problems, neurological problems, cardiovascular issues, and reoccurring infections. Since sickle cell is a life-long disease, treating obstructive sleep apnea can give these kids a much better quality of life and a better chance at a happy future.

In another study, researchers outlined why OSA is especially dangerous to kids with sickle cell anemia. In OSA, the oxygen available to red blood cells drops during sleep. This causes desaturation of the hemoglobin in the cells. In most kids with sickle cell anemia, the blood contains a mix of ‘sickled’ and normal red blood cells. However, the defect in their hemoglobin means that when hemoglobin is desaturated, cells are more likely to sickle. As more and more blood cells sickle, the child experiences more complications from the disease.

One complication that researchers linked to untreated sleep apnea was an increase in vaso-occlusive crises. In a VOC, the sickled blood cells clump up and stick to the walls of smaller blood vessels. This, in turn, blocks the vessels and causes a medical emergency. In some cases, the condition results in excruciating pain, but in other cases, it can cause permanent damage to the kidneys or other internal organs. 

By identifying kids who have both SCD and OSA, you can ensure they receive prompt treatment that reduces oxygen desaturation and the resulting VOCs. While the long-term effects of untreated sleep apnea are damaging to all pediatric patients, they’re especially dangerous for children who suffer from SCD.  

If you’d like to learn more about screening and treating pediatric OSA patients in your dental practice, Dr. Dassani offers an online Pediatric Sleep Apnea Course. Register today so you can connect your patients with the treatments they need to prevent future health complications.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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