How do doctors diagnose sleep apnea?

If your child has symptoms of sleep apnea, the doctor will most likely have them see a doctor who specializes in sleep apnea.

The doctor might also have your child take the following tests:

  • Overnight sleep study (also called nocturnal polysomnogram, or PSG). This is when your child stays overnight in a sleep lab at the hospital. A sleep doctor will check your child’s breathing patterns, arm and leg movements and oxygen levels while they sleep.
  • Home sleep test (HST). An HST is when a doctor will teach you how to check your child’s oxygen levels and breathing patterns at home while they sleep.
  • If the doctor thinks your child might have central sleep apnea, he might recommend that your child have imaging (X-rays) of the brain.

How do doctors treat sleep apnea?

Treatment depends on your child’s symptoms, risk factors and the type of sleep apnea they have. The care team will talk with you about which treatments are right for your child.


  • If your child has OSA caused by large tonsils or adenoids (glands in the throat), surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids can help.

Lifestyle changes

  • If your child has overweight or obesity, the care team might recommend changes to their diet and exercise.

If those treatments do not work, the care team might recommend the following:

Sleeping in certain position

  • Sleeping on their side. In mild cases of sleep apnea, breathing only stops when your child sleeps on their back. Sleeping on their side can help keep their breathing pattern steady.

Tools and equipment

  • CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) through a breathing mask while your child sleeps. There are many types of breathing masks. CPAP helps keep air flowing in and out of the lungs while your child sleeps. The care team can help find one that works for your child.
  • Oral appliances. This can include a mouth guard to keep your child’s throat open while he sleeps.

Rev. 2/2018. Mass General for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This webpage is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.