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Respiratory conditions affect the airways, including the lungs as well as the passages that transfer air from the mouth and nose into the lungs. They can be long lasting (chronic) or short term (acute) and can cause ill health, disability and death. Respiratory conditions are believed to be the most commonly managed problems in general practice. The Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health survey of general practitioners suggested that they were managed at a rate of 22 times per 100 encounters in 2009–10 (AIHW: Britt et al. 2010).
In 2009, there were 11,049 deaths where a respiratory condition was the underlying cause (ABS 2011). This was the third most common cause group.
Respiratory conditions that are chronic, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), place a particular burden on the community. Around 6 million Australians suffered from a chronic respiratory condition in 2007–08 (Based on National Health Survey (NHS) data).
Chronic respiratory conditions can be grouped together in a variety of ways. One common grouping is obstructive lung diseases. These diseases affect the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
Asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are two common forms of obstructive lung disease.
Bronchiectasis is one form of obstructive lung disease that is a particular problem in some Indigenous communities (Chang et al. 2002). Bronchiectasis refers to an abnormal widening of air passages in the lungs. People with bronchiectasis are prone to infections as mucus accumulates in the airways and becomes stagnant. It has a number of causes, including COPD, cystic fibrosis, low antibody levels and infections such as tuberculosis, whooping cough and measles.
In addition to asthma, COPD and bronchiectasis, common chronic respiratory conditions include:
Often chronic conditions occur together or with acute respiratory conditions. For example, estimates from the 2007–08 NHS were that 41% of those that had asthma also had sinusitis or rhinitis and 9% had COPD.
More comprehensive information can be found in the reports listed on our publications page.
ABS 2011. Causes of Death, 2009, ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS.
ACFDR 2009. Cystic Fibrosis in Australia 2009, 12th Annual Report from the Australian Cystic Fibrosis Data Registry. North Ryde, NSW: Cystic Fibrosis Australia.
AIHW: Britt H, Miller G, Charles J, Henderson J, Bayram C, Pan Y et al. 2010. General practice activity in Australia 2009-10. General practice series no. 27. Cat. no. GEP 27. Canberra: AIHW.
Chang AB, Grimwood K, Mulholland EK & Torzillo PJ 2002. Bronchiectasis in indigenous children in remote Australian communities. Medical Journal of Australia 177:200-4.