Asthma and COPD: Differences and Similarities

This article has been reviewed by Thanai Pongdee, MD, FAAAAI

You can't breathe when you exert yourself, and you suffer from episodes of coughing. There are two likely causes for this: you could have asthma, or you could have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

Because asthma and COPD have a number of similarities, it can be difficult to distinguish between them. However, after taking into account your symptoms, medical history, a physical examination and results of medical tests, your doctor can determine if either of these chronic diseases are at the root of your poor health.

Symptoms
Both asthma and COPD may cause shortness of breath and cough. A daily morning cough that produces phlegm is particularly characteristic of chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD. Episodes of wheezing and chest tightness (especially at night) is more common with asthma.

In addition, patients with asthma are more likely to have allergies such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or atopic dermatitis (eczema).

History of Smoking
COPD is almost always associated with a long history of smoking, while asthma occurs in non-smokers as well as smokers. Smoking can also make asthma worse; and smokers are particularly likely to suffer from a combination of both asthma and COPD.

Differing Treatments
Although it may take some time and effort, it is important to distinguish between asthma and COPD. The treatment for the two conditions is different, and you will greatly benefit from an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Whether you have asthma, COPD, or both, make sure you see your doctor regularly.

AAAAI - American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology