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Sleep. 1991 Oct;14(5):432-8.

Prevention of airway obstructions during sleep in infants with breath-holding spells by means of oral belladonna: a prospective double-blind crossover evaluation.

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Pediatric Sleep Unit, University Children's Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Belgium.


We investigated whether the brief airway obstructions seen during sleep in infants with breath-holding spells were controlled by the autonomic nervous system. We studied 20 infants, with a history of breath-holding spells and a median age of 12 wk (range 4-46 wk). During sleep they had a median of 6 airway obstructions per 10-hr recording (range 3-16 events), with a median duration of 8 sec (range 4-12 sec). No explanation was found for the airway obstructions. In every infant, a double-blind crossover challenge was conducted. It included oral administration of tincture of belladonna, equivalent to 0.01 mg/kg weight of atropine, and placebo syrup containing no belladonna. The belladonna, or the placebo, was administered at bedtime for 7 days, followed by a 7-day washout period. Another 7-day series of syrup administration was then undertaken. A nighttime polygraphic recording was made after each 7-day series. It was the belladonna, and not the placebo, that induced the disappearance of the obstructions in 10 infants; these were called "drug responsive". In 5 children no effect was observed after either the placebo or belladonna; these infants were defined as "drug unresponsive". In 4 subjects the obstructions disappeared after both belladonna and the placebo; the children were considered to have an "inconclusive response". One infant was excluded from the study because he developed an airway infection. It is concluded that in some breath-holding infants, obstructed breathing episodes during sleep disappear after the administration of an atropinic drug. The observation could indicate a role of the autonomic nervous system in the control of the upper airways during sleep in infants.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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