COPD and asthma, how to differentiate them?

COPD and asthma, how to differentiate them?

According to estimates, around 4 million people in France are affected by asthma, while Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) concerns between 3 and 3.5 million people. Both respiratory diseases, what are the similarities and differences between asthma and COPD? Health on the Net addresses this issue.

COPD and asthma, how to differentiate them?

COPD and asthma

Asthma and COPD have the main point in common of being chronic diseases, affecting the pulmonary system and therefore respiratory function. Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the bronchiand evolves in the form of crises, the famous asthma attacks. Between two seizures, breathing is most often normal.

During asthma attacks, which can last from a few minutes to a few hours, different symptoms appear, more or less intensely:

  • Breathing difficulty (shortness of breath);
  • wheezing;
  • A dry cough;
  • A feeling of chest tightness.

Often very impressive, these attacks may require hospitalization in the most severe forms.

Respiratory symptoms, but very different causes and mechanisms

Asthma usually begins in childhood, sometimes at an early age, and may or may not continue into adulthood. Asthma attacks are more or less frequent. The treatment of asthma is based on two complementary aspects:

  • A background treatment, aimed at reducing the frequency of asthma attacks and their intensity;
  • A crisis treatment, to relieve the symptoms associated with an asthma attack.

COPD, on the other hand, generally develops in the second half of life, and its two main causes are smoking (about 80% of cases) and exposure to substances that irritate the lungs. The key symptom is the gradual decrease in breath, the result of several mechanisms:

  • Thickening of the wall of the bronchi and bronchioles;
  • Excessive production of mucus by lung cells;
  • A reduction in the caliber of the respiratory tract;
  • A deformation of the bronchioles and the alveoli of the lungs, with a loss of elasticity.

The evolution of the disease leads to pulmonary emphysema, then to respiratory failure.

Different quality of life and prognosis

COPD is therefore associated, unlike asthma, with constant respiratory symptoms, with a progressive deterioration in breathing, without a return to normal. The treatment is based on inhaled drugs (bronchodilators, corticosteroids), or even in the advanced stages on oxygen therapy. COPD is also associated with the occurrence exacerbations, linked to bronchial superinfections, which require prescriptions for antibiotics and sometimes hospitalization.

Asthma and COPD have in common to be chronic respiratory diseases. But their symptoms, pathophysiological mechanisms, evolution and prognosis are very different. They do not affect the same public, and if one leads inexorably to respiratory failure, the other is only associated with impaired respiratory function occasionally during crises.

Estelle B., Doctor of Pharmacy


– Understand COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Accessed November 3, 2022.
– Understanding asthma in adults. Accessed November 3, 2022.

#COPD #asthma #differentiate

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top