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Chronic respiratory diseases disrupt the daily lives and productivity of many individuals and lead to thousands of deaths each year, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

The report, Chronic Respiratory Diseases in Australia, which brings together data from a variety of sources, highlights the prevalence and impact of major chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

AIHW report co-author Mr Perri Timmins said that these conditions are quite prevalent in Australia, with an estimated 5.8 million Australians having at least one long-term respiratory condition in 2001.

'COPD, the major forms of which are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is often associated with severe or profound disability, especially among the older population. With about 5,400 deaths attributed to it in 2003, COPD is a major cause of death in Australia.'

By far, the most important cause of COPD is tobacco smoking, with an estimated 70% of those deaths attributable to smoking. Smoking also worsens the symptoms and control of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases.

'This means that an important feature of many of these diseases is that they are largely preventable and manageable,' said Mr Timmins.

'Recent surveys show that numbers of Australians who are current smokers have declined over the past decade, and those statistics are being reflected in COPD death rates, which are also declining, especially among males.'

While asthma is not a major cause of death in Australia, it is one of the most common problems managed by doctors and is a frequent reason for the hospitalisation of children.

The prevalence of asthma is among the highest in the world with 14-16% of children and 10-12% of adults reporting to have the disease.

Other chronic respiratory diseases, such as hay fever and chronic sinusitis, are noteworthy for their very high prevalence.

'About 2 million Australians are estimated to have chronic sinusitis, which can cause considerable discomfort and disruption in the daily lives of sufferers.

'The good news is that with improved disease prevention and management, many of the effects of chronic respiratory disease can be avoided. This is balanced by the fact that as the population ages and the role of natural and environmental factors change over time, chronic respiratory conditions are likely to continue to have significant consequences for the health of many Australians.'

24 August 2005

Further information: Mr Perri Timmins, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1228, or Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1144.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel 02 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue for availability of Chronic Respiratory Diseases in Australia.