Asthma vs COPD and How to Treat Both

With almost the same symptoms, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often mistaken for each other. Both include difficulty breathing, chronic coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. However, taking a closer look at both conditions reveals the differences between asthma and COPD and we can give you a better picture of these differences!

Asthma vs COPD: How to Tell the Difference?

While being different lung diseases, asthma and COPD have similarities that can be difficult to tell apart. Both can cause swelling in the airways that make it hard to breathe. Many would think they have a link to one another but, in reality, they have differences. Asthma leads to narrowed airways making it difficult to mostly take air in whereas COPD is an inflammatory disease that makes outward airflow more difficult.

Here is what you need to know if you have asthma or COPD, or both:

1. Asthma is typically diagnosed during childhood

It’s a common myth that smoking can cause asthma, as this disease can appear as early as childhood. COPD, however, primarily affects adults over the age of 40 and is commonly diagnosed after the age of 45. Thus, consider your age if you think you have either of these lung diseases.

2. Smoking causes COPD

Smoking is a common cause of breathing problems and lung inflammation that COPD patients experience. Accordingly, Tobacco in Australia Organisation reported in 2015 that the main cause of COPD in the country is smoking. Experts in asthma, however, are still unsure of the cause of asthma. It may be a combination of environmental and genetic factors. 

3. Asthma gets worse when exposed to triggers

While asthmatics experience the same symptoms as COPD patients, it's often triggered by something they’re allergic to, like pollen, mould, or it could even be caused by physical activity. Infections of the respiratory system, such as pneumonia and the flu, can aggravate COPD. Additionally, environmental pollution exposure may also potentially exacerbate COPD.

4. Asthma and COPD can overlap

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS) is the diagnosis for patients who simultaneously suffer from COPD and asthma. Asthma is considered a risk factor for developing COPD, and COPD patients can develop asthma. As you become older, your likelihood of developing this combined diagnosis rises. Therefore, you should consult your doctor if you exhibit both symptoms.

Asthma vs COPD: What are the Treatments?

Similar to asthma, COPD is a chronic illness, and treatment aims to manage symptoms so that you can lead a healthy and active life. Hence, whether you have COPD or asthma, you should get treatment. 

Treatments for Asthma

Even though asthma is a long-term medical condition, you can get better. In certain cases, you may spend extended periods without experiencing any symptoms. Recognising your asthma triggers and taking preventative measures to avoid them is a significant part of treatment. For your daily asthma meds to be effective, it's also critical to pay attention to your breathing. Here are the common treatments for asthma:

  • Bronchodilators - also known as quick-relief medication, bronchodilators are short-acting beta-agonists, ipratropium (Atrovent), and oral and intravenous corticosteroids.
  • Inhalable and oral corticosteroids - long-term asthma control medications that may be taken once or multiple times a day, such as leukotriene modifiers, long-acting beta agonists, combination inhalers and theophylline.
  • Bronchial Thermoplasty - a process using an electrode to heat the interior of the lungs and airways to make breathing easier and asthma attacks may be less frequent.

Treatments for COPD

Similar to asthma, COPD is a chronic illness, and treatment aims to manage symptoms so that you can lead a healthy and active life. Another key goal of treatment is to stop the illness from getting worse because it is a progressive condition. If you have COPD, you should consider these treatments:

  • Quit smoking - avoid smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke to prevent COPD from getting worse.
  • Inhaler and oral medication - your doctor may prescribe short- and long-acting bronchodilators, inhaled or oral steroids, phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors, theophylline, and antibiotics.
  • Lung therapies - supplemental treatments, like oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation programs, may improve quality of life.
  • Surgery or transplant - lung volume reduction surgery can remove damaged lung areas, as well as a lung transplant that can replace damaged lungs with healthy, donated lungs.

What to Do Next?

Asthma vs COPD differences can be detected by spirometry tests. You can go to a nearby clinic or hospital to get tested. Alternatively, you can use a trusted spirometry device with the guidance of a doctor or GP to help you know if you have either of these lung diseases. By getting a SpiroHome Personal device on our Home Healthcare Online website, you can conduct this test and monitor your breathing at home!

We also have other asthma care products available, such as peak flow Australia, cardiac monitoring Australia and lung health monitoring Australia.