What is the Difference Between COPD and Asthma?

Introduction

Asthma and COPD are both pulmonary disorders and if you were to ask anyone they would say that there is not much difference between the two. However, there’s quite a lot of information on what is the difference between COPD and asthma in terms of the methods with which each condition forms and the symptoms they might have.

A Guide To COPD

At the basic level, COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is one of two types of lung diseases that are either obstructive or restrictive. As an obstructive pulmonary disease, the person’s lungs are blocked in such a way that air cannot pass out during exhalation. This can be as a result of cigarette smoking that causes a buildup of mucus within the lungs. There are two main types of COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Asthma is also a type of this disease.

As a result of this, gas exchange is obstructed from reaching the alveoli. This is especially true as the alveoli lose their normal structure over time. Another reason the process of regular gas exchange is obstructed is due to the lungs being unable to clean themselves.

The symptoms of COPD are quite varied but most people will experience wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing as their main symptoms. The person can also experience the feeling of regularly having to clear his throat and the person will continually cough as the body’s way of trying to clear the air passages.

A Guide to Asthma

In the same way, asthma is also an obstructive lung disorder. It is caused by the bronchi of the lungs constricting. As the lumen narrows, proper air exchange is not able to take place. The narrowed lumen can occur for various reasons and will usually have a trigger.

Some triggers include dust, medication, exercise and cold air. The body’s response to this is by reducing the lumen in the lungs to protect it from these particles. The allergic response considers these particles harmful, even though this may not be the case.

The person with asthma will have a characteristic wheezing as the airways begin to close. This can be quite severe and a frightening experience for the person having asthma for the first time. This does not help the situation or the person’s chances. Other than wheezing the person may experience coughing, choking and in severe cases, fainting and vomiting. These symptoms can be seen as signs that the body is experiencing a lung condition causing a decrease in oxygen.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Asthma

Treatment for COPD will usually involve a process that will clear the passages of the person. For any type of COPD, some people will need to be placed on supplemental oxygen, if they start to experience signs of oxygen depletion. In conditions such as emphysema, this might be something the person will need for the rest of his life.

Even though chronic asthma does occur, the treatment of asthma is more acute, because of the sudden onset of its symptoms. Whereas, the main types of COPD are chronic cases. The one way in which asthma has its own unique characteristics is in its treatment. The application of a vasodilator can reverse the condition and open the air passages again. The emergency department will need to administer this vasodilator and other treatment medication quite quickly, especially to help the person in severe cases. Some people may need supplemental oxygen.

References

COPD vs Asthma

American Association For Respiratory Care: COPD Versus Asthma

Netdoctor: Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema and COPD