The Difference between COPD and Asthma

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Asthma are often categorized together because they are both chronic lung diseases that make it harder to breathe. They are similar because of their symptoms – coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, caused by tightness and excess mucus production in the lungs.

They are both obstructive lung diseases, which means both diseases make it hard to get air out of the lungs. Some lung diseases, like pulmonary fibrosis, are "restrictive", which means the diseases make  hard to take air in.

While they have a few things in common, they also have some major differences. this article will help you tell the difference between COPD and asthma.

COPD is an umbrella term for several different lung diseases, which all make it harder to breathe over time. These diseases include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and some forms of bronchiectasis.

The two main ones are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema is when the alveoli – the tiny sacs in the lungs that allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through your lungs and you blood stream – have been permanently damaged. This can cause carbon dioxide to get trapped in the lungs when it should get getting exhaled.

In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the bronchial airways are inflamed and swollen and begin to produce excess mucus. The mucus gets stuck in the airways, and along with the swollen airways, it makes breathing difficult. You may have chronic bronchitis if you have a mucus-producing cough for most of the time, over the course of two years, with no other explanation for a cough.

Asthma is characterized by inflammation, as well as spasms in the lungs. The bronchial airways swell and become extra sensitive to irritants and allergens, which are often the causes of asthma attacks.

The major difference between asthma and COPD is that asthma is much easier to control and live with. With the right treatment, people with asthma can go for long periods between episodes. They can also avoid certain “triggers”, as long as they know what triggers flare-ups. The most common triggers for asthma flare-ups are allergens, smoke, dust, chemical fumes, cold air and exercise.

People with controlled asthma can maintain normal lung function. Those with COPD will not have normal lung function, even while they are not having a flare-up. Unfortunately, even patients who have partially reversible COPD will not have normally functioning lungs.

Another difference is that a COPD flare-up is usually caused by a bacteria or virus, such as a chest cold or the flu, as opposed to airborne irritants, strong emotions, or exercise, as is the case with asthma. Be aware, asthma flare-ups can also be caused by chest colds or bacteria if they are not getting the proper control treatment.

While it is possible for someone to develop COPD at a young age, it is very rare. Most of the time, asthma is diagnosed at a young age while COPD does not develop until later in life.

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