COPD v/s Asthma

November 17,2021

Both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are respiratory diseases that involve chronic inflammation, leading to airflow obstruction. Both have similar symptoms, but their causes and treatments are different. In some cases, COPD and asthma can overlap, causing asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS).

Let’s take a closer look at asthma and COPD to help you understand the similarities and differences between the two.

1. Symptoms

Both asthma and COPD have the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness

The difference is in the frequency and predominating symptoms of asthma and COPD. 

Asthma Symptoms

COPD Symptoms

  • Episodic symptoms occurring during and/or at night
  • Persistent symptoms, morning cough and increased amounts of sputum
  • Intermittent
  • Progressive
  • Occur after exposure to specific triggers
  • Occur more regularly

2. Characteristics

Both COPD and asthma have different characteristics as follows:

Asthma Characteristics

COPD Characteristics

  • Usually diagnosed during childhood or adolescence
  • Usually diagnosed during adulthood
  • Symptoms likely to occur episodically and/or at night
  • Symptoms are more persistent and likely to cause morning cough and increased sputum
  • Common triggers are exercise, cold air and allergens
  • Common exacerbations triggers are pneumonia and flu or pollutants
  • Comorbid conditions include allergic rhinitis and eczema
  • Comorbid conditions include osteoporosis or coronary heart disease
  • Treatment involves inhaled steroids
  • Treatment involves pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Airflow restriction is mostly reversible
  • Airflow restriction is permanent or can be reversed partially
  • People who have asthma are usually nonsmokers
  • People with COPD are mostly smokers or have had significant exposure to secondhand smoke

With COPD, your symptoms become chronic. Over time, you are likely to experience symptoms that are not similar to asthma, including:

  •        Weight loss
  •        Decreased strength
  •        Diminished functional capacity, endurance, and quality of life

3. Causes

Although asthma and COPD are inflammatory diseases, their inflammation involves different types of white blood cells. In asthma, the inflammation results from the production of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell. These cells increase in the presence of an allergen, causing airways to become inflamed and irritable. As a result, it’s difficult for the air to move in and out freely, leading to asthma symptoms.

In COPD, following exposure to irritants (chronic cigarette smoking), the lungs become damaged. Chronic exposure and damage cause hyperinflation and airway obstruction. In COPD, the pathophysiology primarily involves the production of macrophages and neutrophils over a period of time.

4. Treatment Goals

Since the cause of inflammation in asthma and COPD are different, their treatment goals are also different.

The asthma treatment goal is to lower or suppress inflammation. Asthma is a long-term medical condition but can be managed with proper treatment. A significant part of treatment is to identify your asthma triggers and take precautions to avoid them. Common asthma treatments include:

  • Quick-relief medications (bronchodilators) such as ipratropium, short-acting beta-agonists, and oral and intravenous corticosteroids
  • Allergy medications (allergy shots and omalizumab)
  • Long-term asthma control medications (inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting beta-agonists, leukotriene modifiers, combination inhalers and theophylline)
  • Bronchial thermoplasty involves heating the inside of the lungs and airways with an electrode, making it easier to breath

COPD treatment goal is to reduce symptoms and prevent progression of lung damage and decrease exacerbations, thereby improving quality of life.

Like asthma, COPD is also a long-term medical condition. Quitting smoking and avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke are the best ways of preventing COPD from getting worse. Other common COPD treatments include:

  • Medications such as bronchodilators, combination inhalers, inhaled steroids, oral steroids, theophylline, phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, and antibiotics
  • Lung therapies that include oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation programs involving exercise training, education, counselling, and nutritional advice to increase your quality of life
  • Surgeries such as lung volume reduction surgery, lung transplant, or bullectomy

For a free consultation to know your line of treatment based on your ailment, call our health expert now!

What is Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome?

Although asthma and COPD are two separate health conditions, some people have the features of both. This condition is diagnosed as overlap syndrome or asthma-chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (ACOS).

ACOS causes more comorbidities, frequent exacerbations, and worse quality of life than COPD or asthma. The treatment consists of managing symptoms, depending on which condition is more predominant. Along with lifestyle changes, some medications prescribed for ACOS include low-dose corticosteroids, LABAs, and long-acting muscarinic agonists.

Both asthma and COPD can’t be cured, but their outlook is different.  Asthma is easily manageable on a daily basis. However, COPD worsens over time. Patients with asthma or COPD can prevent complications and reduce their symptoms if they follow their prescribed treatment plans.

Don’t let asthma and COPD affect your quality of life. Contact MedsNow today for reliable and affordable treatments.