Asthma Vs COPD: How to Make Difference Between the Two?

asthma vs copd
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Asthma Vs COPD: There happens to be constant debate between Asthma and COPD which are completely two different conditions.

While Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a general term describing some progressive respiratory diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema, COPD is characterized by somewhat decreased airflow with the passage of time. The condition is also seen with inflammation of the tissues as well.

On the other hand Asthma is mainly considered a separate respiratory disease which is often mistaken for COPD.

Both these diseases are confused due to their same symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing and chronic coughing.

As per the data available on National Institute for Health (NH), close to 24 million Americans are suffering from COPD. Around half of them don’t know about their ailment.

In order to come to a diagnosis, especially for those who don’t have a habit of smoking can really help them get an early diagnosis of COPD.

In these conditions, early diagnosis can become quite crucial to maintaining proper lung function in people having COPD.

Around 40% of people who are suffering from COPD are found to have asthma as well. And so, asthma basically acts as a risk factor in developing COPD. The chances of getting both these ailments enhances with age.

In most cases, asthma and COPD look quite similar. But you study their symptoms closely; you will be able to highlight the differences between the two. Take a look at the symptoms below:                                              


While going through Asthma Vs COPD, airway obstruction has been noticed in both the conditions. Please note that the age of initial presentation happens to be the distinguishing feature between COPD and Asthma.

Those who are suffering from asthma are typically diagnosed as children. While COPD symptoms generally show up in adults who have attained the age of 40 years or more. They are those who are former smokers.



The causes of Asthma vs COPD are different.



Even now when we are living in an era where hundreds of medical advancements and researches are conducted in a day, the exact cause of the most common breathing problem asthma is still unknown. However, most experts believe it to be caused by a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors.

It’s also known that there are certain kinds of substances that trigger allergies. Now, these differ from person to person. There are some common asthma triggering agents like smoke, cold air, physical activity, respiratory infections, pet hair, moid, dust mites and pollen.

In addition to this, there are certain medications that are also known to become the trigger factor of asthma like beta blockers and aspirin, sulfites, stress along with some kind of preservatives added to certain foods and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).



The only known cause in developed countries causing COPD is none other than smoking. In developing countries, it’s generally caused mainly by exposure to fumes by the burning fuel for heating and cooking.

As per a report published in Mayo Clinic, 20-30% people who regularly smoke are likely to develop COPD.

When you smoke, it basically irritates your lungs causing air sacs and bronchial tubes to lose their natural elasticity. And this causes air trapped inside your lungs at the time of exhaling the air.

Around 1% people develop COPD due to any sort of genetic disorder. It causes low levels of protein formation called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt). This protein is known to protect your lungs.

In case, the above protein production becomes lesser, lungs can even damage. And this can not only happen in long term smokers but also in children and infants who never smoked.


Different Triggers of Asthma Vs COPD

There are some triggers causing asthma Vs COPD are also different:


Asthma Triggers

Asthma is generally made worse due to the exposure of the following:

  • Exercise
  • Cold air
  • Allergies


COPD Triggers

In cases of COPD, the aggravations are mainly caused by the respiratory tract infections like flu and pneumonia. In addition to this, COPD can also become worse due to environmental pollutants.



Asthma Vs COPD symptoms are mostly similar, especially the problem of shortness of breath that happen in both the cases.

Another cause that affects both includes Airway hyper-responsiveness which means when your airways become sensitive to things you inhale. This happens to be a common feature in both asthma and COPD cases.



These include diseases and conditions that you may have in addition to the main diseases. Just like the symptoms, Comorbidities for asthma and COPD are way too similar. These include:

  • Impaired mobility
  • Sinusitis
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Migraine
  • Insomnia
  • Cancer

As per a recent study conducted in this regard, more than 20% people with COPD may have 3 or more comorbid conditions.


Treatment Options


Treatment of Asthma

Although, Asthma is known to be a long term medical ailment, it can be managed well with proper treatment. One major way of asthma treatment can be determining the trigger factors. Once you are able to recognize them you can simply try to avoid them.

In addition to this, you also need to take care of your breathing so as to make sure if your daily asthma medications are working effectively. Some common treatments of asthma include:

  • Allergy medications: It includes immunotherapy like allergy shots and omalizumab (Xolair)
  • Quick-relief medications: These act as bronchodilators like intravenous and oral corticosteroids, ipratropium (Atrovent) and short-acting beta agonists
  • Bronchial thermoplasty
  • Long-term asthma control medications: These include combination inhalers and theophylline, long-acting beta agonists, leukotriene modifiersand inhaled corticosteroids.
  • Out of the above, Bronchial thermoplasty basically involves heating the inside of lungs airways with an electrode. By doing this, it shrinks the smooth muscle found inside the airways.

It largely reduces the airway’s ability to tighten allowing easier breathing. It also helps reduce asthma attacks.


Treatment of COPD

Just like asthma, COPD is also known to be a long term health condition. In order to provide proper treatment to such an ailment, the main goal of the physician is to control symptoms so that the person can lead an active and healthy lifestyle.

Since COPD happens to be a progressive condition, the main objective here is to prevent it getting worse over time.

There are a few things to make the disease under control like quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke. These two methods are the only ways to prevent COPD from getting worse over time.

Some other quitting methods include certain therapies, hypnosis, nicotine replacement products and medications and support groups.

Some other common treatment methods of COPD include the following:

  • Lung therapies: These include certain kind of pulmonary rehabilitation and oxygen therapy programs that are basically meant for education, counseling, nutritional advice, exercise training and more. These are basically employed to increase the quality life of a patient.
  • Medications: There are certain medications available to treat COPD like oral steroids, combination inhalers, inhaled steroids, antibiotics, theophylline and phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors.
  • Surgeries: This may include lung volume reduction surgery that involves removing damaged lung tissue. It basically enhances the space in the chest cavity for the remaining healthy lung tissue. It may also involve lung transplant or bullectomy (removal of abnormally large air spaces from lungs mainly to improve breathing).


Response to Treatment

When we discuss about Asthma Vs COPD, both these conditions seem to respond well in patients with the treatment options discussed above. One best way is quitting smoking along with airway opening medications like bronchodilators.

It’s seen that lung function is fully reversible in those with asthma. In cases of asthma and COPD diagnosis, the lung function is likely to decline as long as COPD progresses.


Your Outlook

As we discussed above, both asthma and COPD happen to be the long term breathing conditions that can’t be cured. Compared to COPD, asthma can be easily controlled. But COPD worsens with time.

There are instances where people with both COPD and asthma, people get the disease for their entire life. However, there are some cases of childhood asthma where the disease goes away completely after completing the childhood phase.

Please note that both COPD and asthma patients are able to reduce their symptoms and prevent any sort of complications by simply sticking to their medical advice given to them.

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