Both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are common health issues that affect the respiratory system. Despite this fact, there are notable differences between the two conditions.
An Allergic Reaction
Asthma can somewhat be compared to allergies, in that it is essentially an overreaction by your body’s immune system to otherwise harmless substances. Pollen and mold can trigger asthma symptoms, as can physical exertion. Asthma is a chronic condition, and when it acts up it causes inflammation of the lungs’ airways, forcing them to narrow. Unsurprisingly, this makes it rather hard to breathe.
The exact symptoms caused by asthma vary from person to person. Generally speaking, asthmatics tend to experience coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Additional symptoms might include feelings of tightness or pressure in the chest, along with chest pain.
In contrast, COPD is actually used to describe the effects of multiple respiratory diseases, such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The former disease involves the tubes tasked with letting air in and out of the lungs, also known as the bronchial tubes. Chronic bronchitis causes these tubes to become inflamed, making it difficult for air to pass through.
Emphysema occurs when the linings of the alveoli (tiny sacs inside the lungs) become damaged, eventually to the point where the tissues between the alveoli are destroyed. At that point, the lungs begin to grow in size and breathing becomes more difficult.
Some people are unfortunate enough to simultaneously have both COPD and asthma. This condition may be referred to as asthma-COPD overlap (ACO). The exact reasons behind the onset of ACO are not entirely clear. Some asthmatics might develop COPD due to making the unwise decision to smoke cigarettes. Alternatively, living with COPD for years might make your lungs more susceptible for developing asthma. Regardless of the exact nature of this connection, researchers have determined that those with childhood asthma tend to be more likely to develop COPD as adults.