Sleep apnoea in children

Could it be a sign of the rare disease known as Hunter syndrome?

Sleep apnoea (temporarily stopping breathing during sleep) is relatively common in children; it affects around 1–4% of children. There are a number of causes of sleep apnoea, mainly related to physical obstruction of the airway (by the tongue or due to an unusual shape of the mouth or throat).


One possible cause for sleep apnoea in children is Hunter syndrome, which is also known as mucopolysaccharidosis type II (MPS II).


  • Hunter syndrome is a rare, genetic condition that affects many systems of the body.
  • It is estimated to affect around one in every 162,000 children born, and because of its genetic mechanism, the majority of the children affected are boys.
  • Hunter syndrome is a progressive disease, and some symptoms can reach a point at which they become irreversible. Early diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate management can begin as soon as possible.


Sleep apnoea is relatively common, but if your child is also experiencing unusual clusters of common childhood complaints, such as hernias and frequent ear infections, Hunter syndrome should be considered.


If you think that your child may be showing two or more of the symptoms of Hunter syndrome, speak to your doctor.


Hunter syndrome may affect other aspects of breathing

Sleep apnoea in Hunter syndrome is associated with other symptoms related to breathing and to the ears, nose and throat:

  • Noisy breathing
  • Snoring
  • Frequent coughs and colds
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Hearing loss
  • Long-term runny nose

The signs and symptoms of Hunter syndrome vary greatly between individuals, but typically start to present between the ages of 2 and 4 years.

Other signs and symptoms that may indicate Hunter syndrome include:

  • Particular facial features, such as a prominent brow, broad nose and thick lips
  • Hernias (umbilical or inguinal)
  • Large head
  • Joint stiffness, which may lead to restricted movement
  • Frequent or long-term diarrhoea
  • Delays in childhood development (e.g. delayed walking, delayed speech)

It is important to remember that many of these signs and symptoms are common in childhood, and it is the combination of them that may indicate Hunter syndrome

If you think that your child may be showing two or more of the symptoms of Hunter syndrome, speak to your doctor.

Take a look around the website to learn more about the causes, signs and symptoms of Hunter syndrome and the support that is available.