Chronic respiratory conditions can be grouped together in a variety of ways. One common grouping is obstructive lung diseases (diseases affecting the flow of air in and out of the lungs), such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and bronchiectasis, versus other respiratory conditions, such as chronic sinusitis and occupational lung disease (occupational lung diseases are classified as restrictive lung diseases (Leader 2019)).

In 2015, respiratory conditions contributed 8% of total disease burden in Australia (AIHW 2019a).

In 2015–16, an estimated 3.5% ($4 billion) of total disease expenditure in the Australian health system was attributed to respiratory conditions (AIHW 2019b).

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. People with asthma experience episodes of wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness due to widespread narrowing of the airways.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterised by airflow limitation in the lungs, which can lead to mild or severe shortness of breath that is not fully reversible even with treatment. COPD is a serious long-term disease that mainly affects older people, and includes conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

'Hay fever' is a term commonly used to describe allergic rhinitis when it is caused by seasonal exposure to pollen. Allergic rhinitis can also be caused by other exposures, and is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions.

Bronchiectasis refers to an abnormal and irreversible 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.

Chronic sinusitis is the inflammation of the lining of one or more sinuses (large air cavities inside the face bones). It occurs when normal draining of the sinuses is obstructed by swelling, excessive mucus, or an abnormality in the structure of the sinuses. It can cause discomfort and pain and is often linked to similar inflammation inside the nose.

Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a hereditary disease in which mucus from glands is thicker and stickier than normal, affecting the lungs and other organs. Difficulty in clearing mucus from the airway leads to chest infections and airflow obstruction, with related problems such as bronchiectasis and shortened life expectancy.

Occupational lung diseases result from breathing in harmful dusts or fumes, such as silica, asbestos and coal dust. This exposure typically occurs in the workplace. Pneumoconiosis, or scarring of the lung tissue caused by inhaled dust, is one of the most common forms of occupational lung disease.

Sleep apnoea is a condition that affects breathing while asleep. It reduces airflow which causes intermittent dips in the amount of oxygen in the blood and disturbs sleep. The individual with sleep apnoea is often unaware of the night-time breathing difficulties.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a scarring or thickening of the lungs. It affects the transfer of oxygen into the blood. Sometimes a cause can be identified for this but often the cause is not known. In this case it is described as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.


Leader D 2019. Obstructive vs. Restrictive Lung Diseases. New York: verywell health. Viewed 3 July 2019.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2019a. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Australian Burden of Disease series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019b. Disease expenditure in Australia. HWE 76. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 13 June 2019.