Obstructive sleep apnoea affects over 2% of adults and 3-5% of children
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1 April 2016
Press release

Daylight Saving is commencing this Sunday, when 3am becomes 2am and results in the country getting one more hour of sleep. However there are currently thousands of New Zealanders suffering from sleep disorders and not getting a good nights’ rest.
Sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), have been identified by the Ministry of Health as a major cause of health loss in New Zealand, which affects at least 4% of adult males and 2% of adult females, however most cases remain undiagnosed. OSA is also experienced by the youngest of our population, affecting between 3-5% of children.

For children, untreated OSA can affect cardiovascular health, and impairs their development, behaviour and learning. It can be treated effectively in children with an operation to remove the adenoids and tonsils. Chloe Crump, a happy, active and chatty three-year-old was diagnosed just shy of two years of age with OSA and has gone through this procedure. 

Chloe’s mother, Rachel Crump comments, “Chloe has never been a fantastic sleeper, but at around 18-months-old she became progressively worse and started snoring so loud we could hear her from the next room. It was when she woke up often gasping for air and sweating that I knew something wasn’t right. Her development was starting to suffer, her speech was becoming delayed and she was having issues eating and gaining weight.”

“It took numerous doctors’ visits and two public ENT referrals, the first of which was rejected by the health board due to lack of evidence. Chloe had already had a rough start to life with numerous breathing issues requiring frequent hospital treatment and oral steroids on which we were under the care of a paediatrician for, but she was unable to speed up the ENT process for us.”

“In the end we decided to book an appointment with a private ENT specialist which turned out to be the best decision we could make - Chloe was seen within 5 days of me calling them. It took the ENT doctor less than 5 minutes to confirm that Chloe had obstructive sleep apnoea and book her in to have her tonsils and adenoids removed on the public surgery waiting list. Chloe received her operation three months later in March 2015.” 

“Her tonsils and adenoids were very large. After about ten days spent recovering, it was immediately evident she was eating better and the snoring had gone, no longer gasping and no longer stopping breathing during sleep. She was a very different child, and we can rest easy now that her upper airways are no longer obstructing her breathing and her development has come along amazingly well,” comments Rachel. 

In obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) the muscles at the back of the throat relax during sleep so that part of the airway is closed off. This causes the person to stop breathing, then partially wake before starting breathing again. This cycle can occur hundreds of times during sleep, reducing the quality and benefits of a good night’s sleep.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is urging the government to make respiratory disease a national health priority. As such, Te Hā Ora (Breath of Life), the National Respiratory Strategy has been released, to help encourage the health sector and government to collectively address New Zealand’s tragic respiratory rates. Included as aims in the Strategy are to improve diagnosis and treatment, and improve access to specialist care.

For more information contact:
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ 
Phone: 04 495 0097 

Quick facts 
• Respiratory disease is New Zealand’s third most common cause of death. 
• Respiratory disease costs New Zealand more than $5.5 billion every year. 
• One in six (over 700,000) New Zealanders live with a respiratory condition, and these rates are worsening. 

In New Zealand:
• OSA is estimated to affect 3−5% of children and is one of the most common respiratory disorders of childhood (Paediatric Society of New Zealand, 2014)
• a minimum of 4% of adult males and 2% of adult females experience OSA, though most cases are undiagnosed (Mihaere et al., 2009)
• OSA rates are higher among Māori and Pacific people: OSA is twice as common in Māori males compared to non-Māori males, Māori and Pacific people tend to have more severe OSA and more co-morbidities, and there are ethnic disparities in the ongoing use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) (Mihaere et al., 2009; Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand, 2012; Bakker, O’Keeffe, Neill, & Campbell, 2011)
• OSA is considered a contributor to overall health loss and also a risk factor for other life-limiting conditions (coronary heart disease, ischaemic stroke, type 2 diabetes) (Ministry of Health, 2013a; Gander et al., 2010).
Despite this, there is a lack of up-to -date published data on OSA prevalence in New Zealand (Telfar Barnard et al., 2015).

The National Respiratory Strategy - Te Hā Ora is available to download at

Bakker, J., O’Keeffe, K., Neill, A., & Campbell, A. (2011). Ethnic disparities in CPAP adherence in New Zealand: Effects of socioeconomic status, health literacy and self-efficacy. Sleep, 34(11): 1595−1603.
Gander, P., Scott, G., Mihaere, K., & Scott, H. (2010). Societal costs of obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. New Zealand Medical Journal, 123: 1321.
Mihaere, K., Harris, R., Gander, P., Reid, P., Purdie, G., Robson, B., et al. (2009). Obstructive sleep apnea in New Zealand adults: Prevalence and risk factors among Māori and non-Māori. Sleep, 32(7): 949−956.
Ministry of Health. (2013a). Health loss in New Zealand: A report from the New Zealand Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study, 2006−2016. Retrieved from:
Paediatric Society of New Zealand. (2014). New Zealand guidelines for the assessment of sleep-disordered breathing in childhood. Retrieved from:
Telfar Barnard, L., Baker, M., Pierse, N., & Zhang, J. (2015). The impact of respiratory disease in New Zealand: 2014 update. Wellington: Asthma Foundation.

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