Understanding Asthma and COPD: Two Common Chronic Breathing Conditions

By Ryan Ford, Cardiopulmonary Services Director

Many people suffer from chronic lung conditions that affect their breathing. Today, I want to discuss two common conditions: asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

While both asthma and COPD make breathing difficult, they have distinct causes and characteristics.

COPD refers to a group of progressive diseases that cause blocked airways and breathing problems. This includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is often caused by long-term exposure to irritants like cigarette smoke or air pollution. It primarily affects older adults, but in rare cases, a genetic condition can also cause it.

Asthma, on the other hand, involves inflamed and narrowed airways. It can begin in childhood but may also develop later in life. Unlike COPD, asthma symptoms often improve with medication. Triggers like allergens, exercise, or respiratory infections can worsen asthma.

Common Symptoms:

  • COPD: Persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, frequent chest infections.
  • Asthma: Wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing, especially at night or with triggers.

Treatment Approaches:

  • COPD: Focuses on managing symptoms and preventing flare-ups. This may involve medications like bronchodilators and inhaled steroids, pulmonary rehabilitation, and oxygen therapy in severe cases.
  • Asthma: Similar medications to COPD can help control inflammation and symptoms. Additionally, allergy management and biologic therapies may be used in severe cases.

Living Well with COPD or Asthma:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Quitting smoking (for COPD), regular exercise, healthy weight management, and avoiding irritants are crucial for both conditions.
  • Asthma Management: Identifying and avoiding triggers, taking medications as prescribed, developing an action plan with your doctor, and monitoring symptoms are key.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment are essential for managing COPD and asthma effectively. Consult your Health Care Provider for evaluation and guidance.