Chronic respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, contribute substantially to the disease burden within the Australian population. Burden of disease analysis measures the combined impact of living with illness and injury (non-fatal burden) and dying prematurely (fatal burden). This report presents detailed information on the disease burden of chronic respiratory conditions by age, sex and population groups using data from the Australian Burden of Disease Study (ABDS) 2011.

Respiratory conditions as a group contributed 8% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2011, a total of 374,985 disability-adjusted life years (DALY), and were ranked as the sixth leading contributor to total burden after cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental and substance use disorders, musculoskeletal conditions and injuries. Nearly three-quarters (70%) of the burden of respiratory conditions was due to non-fatal burden.

The total burden of respiratory conditions was similar for males and females, was highest in older Australians aged 70–74, and decreased over time from 17 DALY per 1,000 people in 2003 to 16 DALY per 1,000 people in 2011.

The burden of respiratory conditions varied by condition and disease severity

COPD contributed the highest percentage (43%) of the total burden of all respiratory conditions, followed by asthma (29%) and upper respiratory conditions (20%). Sarcoidosis, pneumoconiosis, interstitial lung disease and other respiratory diseases accounted for the remaining 8% of the burden.

The non-fatal burden of COPD was mostly due to moderate COPD (48%) and severe COPD (42%). Uncontrolled asthma contributed two-thirds (66%) of the non-fatal burden due to asthma.

Population groups experienced different levels of respiratory burden

In 2011, the rate of total burden of respiratory conditions:

  • was similar across most states and territories, although was 1.6 times as high in the Northern Territory compared with the national rate
  • generally increased with increasing remoteness, with the highest rates of burden among people living in Very remote areas and the lowest among those living in Major cities
  • generally increased with increasing socioeconomic disadvantage, with the highest rates of burden among people living in areas of the lowest socioeconomic group and the lowest among people in the highest socioeconomic group
  • was 2.5 times as high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

Some of the burden can be attributed to modifiable risk factors

In 2011, three-quarters (75%) of the COPD burden, and more than one-third (36%) of the total burden for all respiratory conditions, was attributed to tobacco use. Occupational exposures and hazards, and air pollution also contributed to the burden of respiratory conditions, but to a lesser extent at 4.4% and 0.1%, respectively.