Apnea is a term defined as the cessation of breathing for longer than 10 to 15 seconds. While this can happen at any age, it typically affects infants aged two to four weeks until six months.
It is particularly seen in premature infants born around 28 weeks due to their underdeveloped respiratory systems. It happens when the brain and spinal cord do not mature, obstructing breathing
When apnea develops, it can have many causes. The most common links found in neonatal apnea are an infection, neurological, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, temperature regulation and maternal drug use.
Types of Apnea
There are three main types of apnea. These are central, obstructive and mixed apnea.
Central apnea is when there is no signal of breathing transmitted to the respiratory muscles, causing the system to not respond due to immature development.
Obstructive apnea is when there is a brief pause of airflow in the pharynx where the muscles are too weak to help the infant breathe properly.
Mixed apnea is a combination of the two.
Treating Neonatal Apnea
To manage apnea in infants born before 34 weeks gestation, it is important for professionals in the neonatal intensive care unit to monitor breathing and development. Underlying causes will also have to be determined and close monitoring is imperative. Health professionals will check to see if there is a link to bradycardia and hypoxia.
Bradycardia is a heart rate that is too slow for normal functionality. Hypoxia is when there is an oxygen distribution deprivation. These two conditions are often linked to cases of apnea in infancy.
Management varies between infants and will depend on a series of factors. Medicines will be administered depending on the severity and cause of the issue.
Untreated apnea can cause unwanted effects to the overall wellbeing of the child. These effects can be a failure to thrive or decrease in intellect. Certain types of apnea can also result in death.
Having a wide group of trained health professionals can assist in the monitoring and betterment of neonates. Once proper diagnosis and treatment are implemented, the infant can be treated accordingly until the risks decline and their health improves.