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Difference between Asthma and COPD

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are chronic respiratory disorders which affect the breathing of a person. These disorders may produce similar symptoms but they are different medical conditions. Let us see how they differ from each other!


It is a chronic lung disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways that supply oxygen to the lungs. It may be caused by exposure to allergens like pollen, dust mites, ragweed and air pollutants like smoke, chemical fumes or unfavourable climatic conditions.

There are three characteristic features of Asthma:

  • Airway obstruction: The bands of muscles that encase the airways tighten due to this air cannot move freely and the person feels short of breath.
  • Inflammation: The bronchial tubes become red and swollen. This symptom may damage the lungs in the long run.
  • Airway irritability: The airways become very sensitive so may overreact or narrow due to even the slightest exposure to pollen, dust, fumes etc.

Some Common Symptoms:

  • A dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound in the chest during breathing).


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a general term that refers to progressive respiratory diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis etc. It affects the lungs and is characterized by increased breathlessness. It is mainly caused by long-term exposure to harmful substances that may irritate or damage the lung such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, dust, chemical fumes etc. In most the developed countries like the USA, the cigarette smoking is found to be the main cause of COPD.

The treatment of COPD involves medications like Bronchodilators, Corticosteroids, Phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors; Oxygen therapy and Surgery in case of severe COPD or when other treatments are not working. In the beginning, the symptoms may not be visible but as the disease progresses symptoms may become more severe.

Some Common Symptoms:

  • Difficult breathing or shortness of breath
  • A cough with mucus
  • Tiredness
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest

Based on the above information, some of the key differences between Asthma and COPD are as follows:

Asthma COPD
It is a common chronic lung disease characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways. It is a general term that refers to progressive respiratory diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis etc.
Asthmatic inflammations occur over a short period of time. It takes more time to develop, unlike asthma.
It mainly results from high levels of Eosinophils. It results from high levels of Neutrophils and macrophages.
Common symptoms include a dry cough, difficulty breathing, and spasms in bronchioles. Common symptoms include a morning cough with mucus, shortness of breath, wheezing etc.
It usually causes a dry cough. It usually causes a productive cough which produces mucus.
It is diagnosed by studying symptoms, medical history, physical exam etc. It is diagnosed by spirometry, CT scans etc.
It generally affects children. It generally affects adults over 40 years of age.
Its treatment involves medications like bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and oral steroids. Its treatment involves bronchodilators, pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy and surgery in severe cases.
In asthma, airflow can be restored. In COPD, airflow can be restored temporarily or cannot be restored at all.
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