Skip to main content

Asthma vs COPD: What’s the Confusion Between the Two?

Written By August 5, 2022No Comments

Updated on August 5, 2022

asthma vs copd


Asthma vs COPD: The most common types of lung disease are Asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Both cause swelling in your airways, making it difficult to breathe.

With Asthma, the swelling is frequently triggered by an allergen, such as pollen or mold, or by physical activity. COPD is an umbrella term used for a group of lung diseases that includes Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis.

Given that the main symptoms for both are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, determining which condition you have can be difficult. Despite their similar symptoms, Asthma and COPD have some significant differences that allow them to be distinguished. Continue reading to find out what they are!

Asthma vs COPD:


Asthma is a lung disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. While the majority of the symptoms of Asthma and COPD are similar, the way they manifest themselves is vastly different.

The majority of asthmatics are diagnosed as children. Though the disease is always present, symptoms do not always appear. Asthma symptoms come and go depending on “triggers” like environmental factors, air quality, physical activity, dust, dander, pet hair, and so on.

Though there is no clear cause of asthma, most studies have shown that it is a genetic condition. Finally, asthma is not widely recognized as a progressive disease. That is, the disorder may improve over time and some people may be able to completely overcome it.

diagnosis asthma vs copd


COPD is an umbrella term for people who have chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or a combination of the two. COPD symptoms are very similar to those of asthma, but there are a few key differences.

The majority of COPD patients are adults, typically aged 40 and up. This is most likely due to the fact that COPD develops over time as a result of lifestyle factors such as smoking. COPD symptoms are milder than those of asthma, but they are persistent, and when patients with COPD are exposed to “triggers,” their symptoms worsen. COPD is also progressive, which means that it will most likely worsen over time. Nonetheless, there are treatments available to help stabilize and manage the disease.

Around 40% of people with COPD also report a history of asthma. Asthma is thought to be a risk factor for developing COPD. As you get older, your chances of getting this dual diagnosis increase.

copd diagnosis

Asthma vs COPD: What are the causes?

Asthma and COPD have distinct causes.


Experts in Asthma are unsure why some people develop asthma while others do not. It could be the result of a combination of environmental and inherited (genetic) factors. It is well understood that certain substances (allergens) can cause allergies. These differ from one person to the next.

Pollen, dust mites, mold, pet hair, respiratory infections, physical activity, cold air, smoke, some medications such as beta blockers and aspirin, stress, sulfites, and preservatives added to some foods and beverages, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are all common asthma triggers.


In the developed world, smoking is the known cause of COPD. Exposure to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating causes it in developing countries. Tobacco use and smoke irritate the lungs, causing the bronchial tubes and air sacs to lose their natural elasticity and over-expand, trapping air in the lungs when you exhale.

A genetic disorder that causes low levels of a protein called alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAt) causes the disease in about 1% of people with COPD. This protein aids in lung protection. Without enough of it, lung damage easily occurs, not only in long-term smokers but also in nonsmokers.

Asthma vs COPD: Similarities and Differences in Symptoms:

6 Similarities between Asthma vs COPD:

There are some similarities between the two condition’s signs and symptoms, including:

  1. Coughing,
  2. Breathing difficulty,
  3. Chest constriction,
  4. Intolerance to exercise,
  5. Wheezing (a whistling or squeaking sound in the chest), and
  6. In both diseases, anxiety and an elevated heart rate are possible symptoms.

6 Differences between Asthma vs COPD:

  1. In contrast to COPD, where breathing typically returns to normal after an attack, asthma allows breathing to return to normal between attacks.
  2. The severity of COPD symptoms gradually worsens. (If you have asthma, this could also happen.)
  3. Compared to Asthma, COPD produces more mucus.
  4. With COPD, chronic cough is typical.
  5. Chronic blueness of the lips or nail beds (cyanosis) is common in people with COPD.
  6. Nearly anyone can develop asthma, but people over 40 are more likely to develop COPD. Even though some people may experience a younger onset of COPD.

Asthma vs COPD: How to diagnose?

how to diagnose asthma

Determine how well the lungs function by a spirometry test, also known as a pulmonary function test. People blow into the device as forcefully and thoroughly as they can, providing data on the amount of air the lungs inhale and exhale. Spirometry tests are frequently used by medical professionals to assess airway issues linked to COPD and asthma.

When considering a COPD Vs Asthma diagnosis, doctors consider the following factors:

  • History of smoking: Most people with COPD smoke or have smoked in the past.
  • Age: Asthma frequently develops in children. After the age of 40, doctors are more likely to diagnose COPD if breathing problems develop.
  • Symptoms: COPD symptoms include morning coughing, heavy phlegm, and worsening symptoms. Recurring attacks suggest asthma, especially if they are accompanied by allergies or eczema.
  • Family history: Asthma is more likely to run in families, according to family history.
  • Triggers: People with COPD may experience symptoms while awake or asleep, without a specific cause being identified. Attacks of asthma may be brought on by physical exertion or an environmental factor.
  • The onset of symptoms: Asthma attacks start suddenly, whereas COPD symptoms tend to deteriorate over time.
  • Response to treatment: Compared to COPD, asthma typically responds better to fast-acting rescue inhalers.

Although a patient’s medical history may help distinguish between asthma and COPD, research shows that the two conditions have a lot in common. Patients should report all symptoms to their doctor because a diagnosis for either condition does not preclude the development of another breathing disorder.

What Is the Asthma-COPD Overlap (ACO)?

Some people simultaneously suffer from COPD and Asthma. Your doctor may diagnose you with Asthma-COPD overlap if you exhibit symptoms of both conditions. Both asthmatic and COPD symptoms are possible. ACO is not a distinct illness. The name acknowledges the variety of symptoms.

ACO’s root cause is unclear. Long-term COPD may alter how your lungs function and increase your risk of developing it. Alternatively, it might begin if you smoke while having asthma. There’s also a chance it occurs of unknown causes.

Finding and treating ACO is crucial because it can be more serious than either condition on its own. There is no cure, but you can improve your breathing and quality of life with the help of your doctor.

Asthma vs COPD: What’s the prevalence?

Both COPD and asthma are severe, potentially fatal conditions. Manage Both conditions with daily controller medications that help keep airways open, reduce mucus, and improve breathing, as well as quick-relief inhalers for respiratory emergencies.


One in ten individuals with the disease, or 3,600 deaths annually, are attributable to asthma. In addition to medications, environmental allergens and irritants that aggravate symptoms can be avoided.


COPD is the third most common cause of death in the US, accounting for about 120,000 deaths each year. Lung damage that is permanent may result. If you catch the disease early enough, you can halt its progression. While medications are essential, you also need to lessen your exposure to pollution and smoke, which can harm your lungs.

Ask your doctor about smoking cessation programs if you smoke and have asthma or COPD because you must stop. To protect yourself from exposure to viruses, it’s also critical to receive annual vaccinations for the flu and pneumonia.

Asthma Vs COPD symptoms can alter over time, so may the amount of medication required. To determine which medications are most effective for you at any given time, work closely with your doctor.

Asthma vs COPD: What’s the treatment?

asthma potential treatment


You can manage Asthma which is a chronic medical condition with proper treatment. Recognizing your asthma triggers and taking precautions to avoid them is an important part of treatment. It’s also critical to monitor your breathing to ensure that your daily asthma medications are working properly. Asthma treatment options include:

  • Bronchodilators (quick-relief medications) such as short-acting beta-agonists, ipratropium (Atrovent), and oral and intravenous corticosteroids
  • Allergy medications such as allergy shots (immunotherapy) and omalizumab are examples of allergy medications (Xolair)
  • Inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, long-acting beta agonists, combination inhalers, and theophylline are long-term asthma control medications.
  • Bronchial thermoplasty involves using an electrode to heat the inside of the lungs and airways. It causes the smooth muscle inside the airways to contract. This reduces the ability of the airway to tighten, making breathing easier and possibly reducing asthma attacks.


COPD, like asthma, is a long-term health condition, and the goal of treatment is to control symptoms so you can live an active and healthy life. Because it is a progressive condition, another primary goal of treatment is to keep the condition from worsening. You should stop smoking. This is the only way to keep COPD from getting worse. Quitting methods include nicotine replacement products and medications, as well as therapy, hypnosis, and support groups.

Other common treatments for COPD include:

  • Antibiotics, phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, theophylline, oral steroids, combination inhalers, bronchodilators, and inhaled steroids.
  • In order to improve your quality of life, lung therapies such as oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation programs that include education, exercise training, nutritional advice, and counseling are available.
  • A lung transplant replaces diseased and damaged lungs with healthy, donated lungs, while a bullectomy removes areas of damaged lung tissue to make room for the remaining healthy lung tissue in the chest cavity (removal of abnormally large air spaces from the lungs to help improve breathing).

Potential treatments for COPD and asthma, such as giving up smoking and taking bronchodilators to open the airways, work well for both conditions. Only those with asthma can fully reverse lung function, though. The progression of COPD is frequently sped up if asthma and COPD are both diagnosed. Even in those who have milder forms of the illness, this is still the case.

copd and asthma life

Asthma vs COPD: Life Expectancy

Depending on how quickly COPD progresses over time, the prognosis for the disease can range from fair to poor. According to research, people with COPD generally have a shorter lifespan.

The prognosis for asthma sufferers typically ranges from fair to excellent, depending on how well you can pinpoint the causes of your attacks and how you react to the medication.


Both COPD and asthma are chronic, incurable conditions, but the prognosis for each condition varies. In general, asthma is simpler to manage on a daily basis. COPD, however, gets worse over time. While in comparison between Asthma Vs COPD people with both conditions frequently live with their illnesses, in some cases childhood asthma is completely reversible. People with COPD and asthma can both lessen their symptoms and avoid complications by following their recommended treatment plans.

There are multiple Asthma Clinical Research in Michigan that aims at helping people with their Asthma or if they are unable to manage their symptoms. Following treatment plans can help in both COPD and Asthma.

Dr. Anusia Thourani

Author Dr. Anusia Thourani

Dr. Anusia is a Dentist and currently working as a Recruitment Associate at Revive Research Institute. Her cheerful personality and enthusiasm for her work in this organization make her a great part of our team.

More posts by Dr. Anusia Thourani

Leave a Reply

Close Menu