Children suffering from sleep apnea may not have to undergo surgical removal of chronically inflamed tonsils or adenoids; they can receive a single nightly pill usually given for asthma to treat the condition instead.

So say researchers at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center, having just published their work in the prestigious journal Pediatrics, whose editor called the conclusions “eye opening.”

About three percent of children suffer from sleep apnea, in which they snore and may even stop breathing for a few seconds while asleep.

While sleep apnea is common among overweight adults and poses a risk of heart disease, it can also occur in children who have enlarged adenoids or tonsils.

The condition can cause problems with their schoolwork and learning, memory, reduced grades and even a lower IQ. The final result can be violence, aggression, hyperactivity and even cardiovascular problems.

Until now, toddlers and children who snore in their sleep have had to undergo surgery to remove their tonsils or adenoids.

Even though these operations are considered effective, in some children they result in dryness, infections, bleeding and other difficulties. As a result, researchers have long searched for an alternative.

Dr. Aviv Goldbert, deputy head of the hospital’s pediatrics B department and an expert in breathing and sleeping disorders, and colleagues Dr. Sherry Greenberg and Prof. Asher Tal, looked for another way to cope with sleep apnea beyond surgery.

Over a period of four months, 25 children took one Montelukast pill before going to sleep. It was found to reduce the symptoms and improve their sleep. When they were examined in a sleep lab, their sleeping patterns and the opening of the respiratory airways were found to be much improved.

Goldbert noted that the study was “another step, and a significant one, following other important research in our lab at Soroka.

They have examined the inflammatory process in children with sleep apnea.”

The anti-inflammatory pill, he concluded, “is effective in many children who suffer from not-severe respiratory problems during sleep and can’t undergo surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids.”

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