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Asthma or COPD: How to Tell the Difference?

Asthma or COPD: How to Tell the Difference?

Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are common but chronic respiratory diseases that can cause serious lung damage. Here’s how you can know the difference between the two.


Asthma vs COPD: The Differences

Let's look at the differences between Asthma and COPD



Asthma is an inflammatory lung condition that affects your respiratory airways and can cause severe breathing difficulties.




Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorders (COPD) is a group of inflammatory lung conditions that cause an obstruction in the airflow from your lungs. The most common COPDs are Emphysema, chronic Bronchitis, chronic Asthma.


What Causes Asthma and COPD?


The main cause of COPD is tobacco smoke. COPD also affects people who inhale fumes from cooking fuel and heating in poorly ventilated homes.


When you have asthma, your airways react to different particles present in the environment. These are called asthma triggers. Exposure to these triggers causes asthma symptoms to worsen. Common asthma triggers include infections, pollen, dust, pet dander, and pollutants, and tobacco smoke.


What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?



Asthma is caused by an inflammation of the airways with increased production of mucus (sticky secretions) inside your bronchial tubes. People with asthma experience symptoms, or get an asthma attack when their airways tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms of asthma are:

  • Coughing that increases at night
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure


What Are the Symptoms of COPD?



Symptoms of COPD may develop slowly, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Chronic cough, with or without mucus
  • Fatigue
  • Different respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) that worsens with mild activity
  • Trouble catching one's breath
  • Wheezing


Who Can Get Asthma or COPD?



The most common risk factors for developing asthma is if you have a parent with asthma, or have had a severe respiratory infection as a child, or have an allergic condition, or have been exposed to certain chemical irritants or industrial dust in the workplace.


Risk factors for COPD include:

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Smokers with asthma 
  • Exposure to dust and chemicals at work
  • COPD develops slowly over the years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin
  • A rare genetic disorder alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD


Is It Asthma or COPD?


A spirometry test or pulmonary function tests may provide information about how much air your lungs take in and release. 

However, research shows a significant overlap between the two. This condition is called asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS). Both can develop simultaneously, so patients should report all symptoms to their doctor.


Here are a few tips to manage asthma at your workplace.

Medanta Medical Team
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