What role do hospitals play in treating COPD?

Patients may require admission to hospital for severe acute exacerbations of COPD

Acute exacerbations of COPD (flare-ups) are frequently due to respiratory tract infections. They have also been associated with increases in exposure to air pollution and changes in ambient temperature. Episodes that are life threatening sometimes require temporary assistance with breathing.

Data from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) show that in 2015–16 there were 71,828 hospitalisations of people 45 years and over where COPD was the principal diagnosis. The rate of hospitalisation for COPD among those aged 45 and over was 723 per 100,000 population.

The hospitalisation rate for males aged 45 years and over declined 14% in the ten years from 2005–06 to 2015–16, from 912 to 805 per 100,000 population (Figure 1).

While remaining relatively stable between 2005−06 and 2014−15, the female hospitalisation rate increased by 12% in 2015−16, to 667 per 100,000 population.

Figure 1: COPD hospitalisations, ages 45+, 2005–06 to 2015–16

Line graph shows COPD hospitalisations have remained relatively constant from 2005-06 to 2015-16 at around 900 for males and 600 for females.


  1. Age standardised to the 2001 Australian Standard Population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).

There is a strong seasonal driver of COPD exacerbations

Admissions to hospital for COPD are highest in winter and early spring. This matches and is related to the trend for acute respiratory infections (e.g. rhinovirus (common cold), influenza, pneumonia and acute bronchitis) (Figure 2). 

Figure 2: Hospitalisations for acute respiratory infection (ARI) or COPD, ages 45+, by month, 2010–15

Line graph shows hospitalisations for ARI and COPD have shown a strong seasonal driver from 2010 to 2015. ARI hospitalisations in winter have risen from 90 to 120 per 100,000 people. COPD hospitalisations in winter have remained constant around 70 per 100,000.


  1. Data obtained from records of hospitalisations, reported by period of hospital admission.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).