Breathing that slows down or stops from any cause is called apnea. Prolonged apnea means a person has stopped breathing. If the heart is still active, the condition is known as respiratory arrest. This is a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical attention and first aid.
Common causes of apnea in infants and young children include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Choking
  • Encephalitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn)
  • Holding ones breath
  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Premature birth
  • Seizures
  • Allergic reaction that causes tongue, throat, or other airway swelling
  • Asthma or other lung diseases
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Choking
  • Drug overdose, especially due to alcohol, narcotic painkillers, barbiturates, anesthetics, and other depressants
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

The most common sleep studies include:

  • nocturnal polysomnography, a test that measures electronic brain waves, breathing rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and various other bodily conditions during sleep
  • oximetry, a way of measuring the oxygen in your blood
  • portable cardiorespiratory testing, which involves testing your breathing and pulse throughout the night away from a hospital setting


  • Certain medications can induce apnea. Sometimes changing these medications can help you improve.
  • using a ventilator device to regulate your breathing patterns, called adaptive servo-ventilation
  • having surgery to remove obstructions from the airways
  • using a mouthpiece to keep the airways open
  • administering caffeine intravenously in-hospital for apnea of prematurity

People with obstructive sleep apnea may also complain of memory problems, morning headaches, mood swings or depression, and a need to urinate frequently at night. Obstructive sleep apnea might be a risk factor for COVID-19. People with obstructive sleep apnea have been found to be at higher risk for developing a severe form of COVID-19 and needing hospital treatment than those who don’t have obstructive sleep apnea.


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