Lead author Dr. David Gozal of the University of Chicago says the sleep disorder usually requires overnight testing using polysomnography to distinguish it from habitual snoring.
"This would alleviate the need for costly and inconvenient sleep studies in children who snore, only about 20 percent to 30 percent of whom actually have obstructive sleep apnea," Gozal says in a statement.
The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, involved 90 snoring children referred to the sleep clinic to be evaluated for sleep disordered breathing and 30 healthy, non-snoring children that served as controls.
When the researchers used an electrophoresis technique to screen urine for hundreds of proteins simultaneously, they found a number of the proteins expressed differently -- biomarkers -- in children with apnea versus snoring or non-snoring children.
"It was rather unexpected," Gozal says. "However, the field of biomarkers is one that is under marked expansion and this certainly opens the way for possible simple diagnostic screening methods in the future."