COPD vs Asthma: How To Tell The Difference

4 minute read

By Editorial Staff

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are lung conditions with no cure, which means management is the only real treatment. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about COPD and asthma with a search online right now.

Although COPD and asthma are closely related, there are important differences that define each disease. Take a proactive role in your health and get educated on the distinct characteristics of these conditions and the latest management strategies.

What Is The Difference Between COPD and Asthma?

COPD and asthma are chronic respiratory ailments, yet they obstruct airflow in distinct ways. COPD encompasses lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, collectively impeding lung airflow. A common experience with COPD is the sensation of breathing through a narrow straw.

Asthma, on the other hand, involves airway swelling, leading to narrowed passageways that hinder air’s journey from the mouth and nose to the lungs. This condition can induce a feeling of suffocation and, if not promptly treated, can pose a serious threat. While both conditions are treatable, understanding their risk factors and treatments is vital to prevent potentially life-threatening situations.

Shared Symptoms

The symptoms of COPD and asthma are very similar, which is why you might have a hard time determining which condition you have. Some shared symptoms of COPD and asthma are:

Different Symptoms

Each condition also exhibits its own specific symptoms. One COPD-specific symptom is having an excess amount of mucus. You might have to clear your throat because of a build-up in your lungs or have a cough that produces white, yellow, or greenish-colored mucus. Other symptoms may include blueness of the lips or fingernail beds, lack of energy, frequent respiratory infections, or unintended weight loss.

Asthmatic symptoms can be sporadic and range from mild to severe. People with asthma might have trouble sleeping due to breathing problems. Asthma attacks can be situational and occur directly from exercise, workplace irritants, or allergens. It varies from person to person, so attacks can also be experienced at random.



For 90 percent of people who develop COPD, the cause is long-term smoking. Inhaling pollutants such as cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and second-hand smoke cause damage to the lungs. When this happens, white blood cells appear in the area and release enzymes that destroy lung tissue.

Similarly, other contributing factors to COPD include fumes, chemicals, and dust that can appear in work environments. COPD is highly preventable and you can significantly reduce your chances of developing this condition by not smoking.


Unlike COPD, there is no definitive cause for developing asthma. Once you’re diagnosed with asthma, you can start to understand what will trigger its symptoms. Allergens such as grass, trees, dust mites, and other irritants in the air are known triggers for asthmatic patients. Flu-like illnesses or respiratory infections, strenuous exercise, extreme weather conditions, and strong changes in emotions can also lead to breathing problems that induce an asthma attack.

Risk Factors

By understanding the risk factors for COPD and asthma, you have a better chance of managing symptoms and preventing problems with your lungs. The risk factors differ between these two chronic conditions.


Smokers are at the highest risk of developing COPD, and your chances increase as you grow older. Long-term exposure to air pollution, secondhand smoke dust, and other work-related chemicals can also cause COPD. Another possible way to contract COPD is by having an alpha-1 deficiency. It’s a rare and genetic form of COPD that reduces the body’s ability to produce alpha-1 proteins that protect the lungs.


Anyone of any age can develop asthma. It’s common in young people, and it’s the leading chronic disease in children. Adult men and women are both vulnerable to asthma, but it’s more common in women. African Americans in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from asthma compared to other races and ethnicities. The chances of having an asthma attack increase when allergens or irritating pollutants enter the lungs.


While there are no cures for COPD or asthma, there are effective treatments that help individuals lead normal lives by managing their symptoms.


Treatment for COPD varies among individuals due to unique symptoms and conditions. Your doctor will recommend tailored approaches to enhance your quality of life, as there’s no universal solution.

Pulmonary rehabilitation combines education, exercise, nutrition guidance, and counseling to rebuild strength and alleviate symptoms. For severe cases, lung surgery may be considered, though not all patients qualify. If breathing difficulties persist, supplemental oxygen can be beneficial.


Since asthma attacks can be unpredictable, people might panic and end up worsening the condition. Stay calm as much as you can and use the medications prescribed to you. Most people with asthma are given inhalers that act as a quick way to relax airway muscles and help you breathe during an attack. In the rare case that symptoms don’t improve with an inhaler, you should seek immediate help from emergency services.

Learn More About COPD and Asthma Today

Both COPD and asthma are lifelong conditions. Though neither can be cured, both can be successfully managed to some extent. To gain a deeper understanding of COPD and asthma, explore further resources and information available online. Knowledge is your best ally in managing these conditions, so take the initiative to learn more about these chronic respiratory disorders and how to effectively navigate them for a healthier life.

Editorial Staff