Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are chronic lung diseases; COPD mainly affects older people, while asthma affects people of all ages. Asthma death rates in Australia are high compared with many other countries and COPD is a leading cause of death in Australia (AIHW 2014) and internationally (Lozano et al. 2012). Many deaths due to these conditions are potentially preventable.

This report presents current information about mortality due to asthma and COPD in Australia, examining trends over time, seasonal variation, international comparisons and variation by age, sex, remoteness, Indigenous status, country of birth and socioeconomic disadvantage. To reduce overlap with asthma, COPD mortality data in this report refer only to people aged 55 and over.


Since 1911, the mortality rate due to asthma in Australia has fluctuated, with several peaks observed in the late 1950s, mid-1960s and late 1980s. In recent years, the mortality rate due to asthma has declined substantially, but remains relatively high on an international scale.

In Australia in 2011, asthma was certified as the underlying cause of 378 deaths (1.5 per 100,000 people) which represented 0.3% of all deaths in Australia. This included 17 deaths among people aged 5-34 (0.2 per 100,000 people in this age group). The median age at death due to asthma was 80 in 2007-2011.

Deaths due to asthma:

  • occur in all age groups but increase with age in both males and females
  • are higher in females compared to males aged 35 and over, but similar in males and females aged 5-34
  • peak in late winter for those aged 64 and over.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

In Australia in 2011, COPD was certified as the underlying cause of 5,767 deaths among people aged 55 and over (102 per 100,000 people aged 55+), representing 4.4% of all deaths in that age group in that year. The median age of death due to COPD was 81 in 2007-2011.

Death rates due to COPD:

  • approximately halved between 1979 and 2011 among males
  • increased between 1979 and 1997 among females and then declined
  • increase with age and are almost double in males compared to females
  • are lowest in late summer and usually highest in the late winter months.

Deaths due to asthma and COPD are higher among

  • people from English-speaking compared to non-English-speaking countries of birth
  • people residing in Remote areas of Australia compared to Major cities
  • Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians
  • people residing in areas of greatest socioeconomic disadvantage.