COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Worth Knowing

If you cannot breathe when you exert yourself and suffer from episodes of coughing, then likely there may be two causes for this; you could have COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, such as bronchitis or emphysema or even Asthma.

Because COPD and Asthma have a lot of similarities, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. However, your doctor can determine if it is COPD or asthma by taking into account your symptoms, medical history, a physical examination and some medical diagnosis test. We have mentioned some of the differences between COPD and asthma in the current article.

COPD Vs Asthma

COPD Vs Asthma: Basic Differences

COPD or Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, refers to a group of lung diseases that blocks the airflow into the lungs that makes breathing difficult. These diseases include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes lining which carry air to and from the lungs. Emphysema is the disease where the lung tissue around alveoli or smaller sacs is practically destroyed. This in turn makes the alveoli unable to hold shape after the air is exhaled.

However, in case of Asthma, it is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and unfortunately in today’s world, it is pretty common. Asthma affects people of all ages, though it most often begins during childhood, because of which a large number of children have to live with this disease.

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and unfortunately in today’s world it is quite common. Asthma is known for causing recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow to the lungs and make breathing difficult. These diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On The Statistics

In the year 1990, COPD was ranked as the 6th leading cause of death worldwide. It is projected to become the 4th leading cause of death worldwide by the year 2030 because of the increasing number of smokers and the demographic changes in many countries.

In the year 2011, 235-300 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with asthma and it caused 250, 00 deaths.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On Age Of Onset

One more feature that distinguished COPD from Asthma is the age at which symptoms typically start. People with COPD, usually do not get diagnosed until they are 40 or older. This is because the condition is often brought on by years of smoking, and it is the result of the slow progression of the disease.

However; most people are initially diagnosed with asthma in their childhood, and most children have asthma begin exhibiting symptoms by the age of 5.

COPD Vs Asthma: Difference Based On Causes

The primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoking. However, in the developing countries, this condition occurs in women who are exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated houses. Other irritants that can cause COPD, includes cigar smoke, secondhand smoke, air pollution, pipe smoke, and workplace exposure to dust, fumes or smoke. In rare cases, the condition may also result from a genetic disorder that leads to low levels of protein known as alpha-1-antitrypsin. However; the exact cause of asthma is unknown. Genetic and environmental factors like, an inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy, childhood respiratory infections or contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in their early childhood when the immune system is developing, and asthmatic parents may impact the cause of asthma

COPD Vs Asthma: Difference Based On Risk Factors

COPD is most likely to develop in people who smoke cigarettes; however, cigar and pipe smokers are also susceptible to COPD. Apart from this, people who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke, to indoor and outdoor air pollution, and to occupation related exposure to fumes or dust, may also be at a higher risk of developing the condition.

Young children who often wheeze and who have respiratory infections, allergies, eczema of parents with asthma, are at higher risk of developing asthma. Some individuals who often come in contact with certain chemical irritants and industrial dusts in their workplace, are also at a risk of developing asthma.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On Symptoms

COPD symptoms include a cough that lasts at least 3 month in a year, for 2 consecutive years, shortness of breath (especially during physical activities), chest tightness, and wheezing. Patients will have to clear the throat first thing in the morning, because of excess mucus in the lungs. The patient may also have chronic cough that produces sputum that may be clear white, yellow or maybe greenish in color. There may be blueness of the lips or fingernail beds (cyanosis), frequent respiratory infections, lack of energy, unintended weight loss in the later stages.

Symptoms of COPD include coughing that often worse at night or early in the morning, wheezing, whistling sound while breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On Diagnosis

Symptoms of COPD generally do not appear until significant lung damage has occurred, and they usually worsen over time. Diagnosis of COPD may require pulmonary function tests, Chest X-rays, CT scans and/or arterial blood gas analysis.

Symptoms in case of asthma are irregular. The best way to diagnose the condition is a lung function test.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On Treatment

There is no treatment for COPD. But, effective therapy can help control the symptoms, reduce the risk of complications and exacerbations and also improve the ability to live an active life. The most essential step in treatment is to stop all smoking.

Though there is no cure for asthma, it is possible to control the disease and also limit its effects and it is possible to live a normal lifestyle with asthma.

COPD Vs Asthma: Differences Based On Prognosis and Life Expectancy Of The Patients

The prognosis of COPD ranges from fair to poor and this depends on how rapidly COPD advances over time. According to the research, in general, people with COPD have a reduced lifespan.

The prognosis for most individuals with asthma, ranges from fair to excellent, and this depends upon how well one can identify what triggers you are attacked with and your response to the medication.


Now, we know about some of the differences between COPD and asthma. It is important for you to consult your doctor in case you suffer from any of the symptoms that might indicate COPD or asthma, and get yourself properly treated.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 16, 2018

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