This eclectic array of common childhood complaints may seem diverse and unrelated but in fact they all have a common root cause. I thought to write about this as I just came across a new study* that reported preschool kids who snore are three times more likely to also suffer from behavioural disorders.
The researchers could only come up with a couple of plausible causes for this – including poorer sleep and lack of oxygenation to the brain. While these are certainly going to play a small role, in my opinion, there is a much more likely reason for this.
For many kids, especially three to six year-olds, loud snoring is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also linked to recurrent ear infections and of course tonsillitis. Conventional medical solutions normally involve surgery to remove the adenoids or tonsils to improve the child’s breathing and reduce their ear and throat infections. While we can survive without adenoids and tonsils, I think we can do better than simply whipping out these important immune organs.
From my perspective this is just symptomatic and fails to address the underlying problem, which is nearly always food intolerance and environmental allergens. When children are exposed to allergens either through the diet or through the environment – their immune system reacts by producing more mucus to help trap the airborne allergens and also it releases immune agents (such as histamine) and increases the output of antibodies and other immune cells. The tonsils (and neighbouring adenoids) are a first line of defence and where our immune system does much of its production of the important immune cells.
All this immune activity causes an enlargement in the adenoid and tonsillar tissue. Adenoids can get so large that they seriously impede on the airways – and not enough air can be obtained from normal nasal breathing leading to kids resorting to mouth breathing.
And now – here is where the crowded teeth issue comes along. When we breath through our mouths, we must have our lips apart and our tongue tends to move away from resting in the upper hard palate where it belongs. The muscular pressure of the tongue and lips are largely responsible for shaping the upper palate into a nice broad arch. Without this support, the palate tends to grow less favourably and more a narrow palate results – which in turn cannot comfortably house the emerging adult teeth. Then we get overcrowded teeth – which is a very common problem today.
Lastly, let’s look at behaviour. This is where food allergies come in. Of course, I agree with the researchers that children who snore are more likely to get poorer sleep and decreased oxygenation to the brain and this will have a hangover effect on learning and behaviour. When kids are tired, they get more easily frustrated and have less capacity for delayed gratification which can lead to ‘behavioural issues’. From my clinical experience with kids with behavioural disorders though, I generally find that it is food intolerance (along with a generally poor diet) that is driving the problem. Intolerances to common foods have been linked to digestive issues and in turn can affect the way the brain functions. When we can sort this out, children can function more normally, learn better and be happier and more resilient.
My motto is that children are always doing the best they can – given the circumstances they find themselves in. Kids don’t deliberately want to be annoying, aggressive or mean. Their capacity to cope with the world is a combination of learnt behaviour and modelling from the adults closest to them, alongside a delicate interaction with their environment – food, water, allergens and other everyday exposures.
Let’s start treating kids with the respect, intelligence and sensitivity that they deserve and create an environment and healing paradigm that allows them to truly flourish.
* Research paper can be found here