5 Similarities and Differences Between COPD and Asthma

5 Similarities and Differences Between COPD and Asthma

If you’ve ever witnessed a family member or friend have problems with their lungs, doctors likely mention both possibilities of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and asthma. These two conditions are similar but not identical. 

Understanding these similarities and differences is crucial to decide what treatment to use and how to handle these two conditions. 

Asthma is an acute disorder, while COPD is a collection of diseases. A person can have asthma without having COPD and vice versa. But one can also have both at the same time, and these conditions can combine with deadly force. 

Read on to discover the variances and similarities of COPD and asthma.

ACOS (Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome)

ACOS or asthma-COPD overlap syndrome is a condition where a patient has both asthma and COPD. Among other similarities, Asthma and COPD’s symptoms are almost identical.  

1. Symptoms 

Symptoms for both COPD and asthma include: 

  • Wheezing
  • Low physical exercise tolerance 
  • Excess phlegm 
  • Fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Tightness in chest 
  • Frequent croup cough 

Both Asthma and COPD can be deadly. COPD, however, is far more deadly than asthma. In 2014, chronic lower respiratory diseases – especially COPD- were the third leading cause of death in the US, according to the CDC.

When you compare those numbers to about 3,500 people dying per year from asthma, almost half of whom are 65 or older, you can see the disparity. 

Because of their overlapping symptoms, someone can have asthma, without being aware they also have COPD. That’s part of the reason ACOS can be so dangerous.

Often, ACOS isn’t discovered until its moderate stages, when people begin feeling concerning shortness of breath, and more phlegm than usual. 

2. Triggers

COPD and asthma can share triggers, but they have some different triggers as well.

The most common triggers for asthma are allergens, such as dust and mold. Allergens can also make COPD symptoms worse. If left untreated, allergens and asthma can increase the chances of COPD. 

While allergens can make COPD worse, Smoking is the most significant risk factor for developing COPD because it aggravates different parts of the lungs and reduces their functionality.

Asthma can be caused by smoking as well, to a lesser degree.

3. Diagnosis 

Since asthma and COPD share similarities, it’s easy to misdiagnose both conditions. Their ability to combine into one condition makes accurate diagnosis even more difficult. 

Due to the challenges associated with diagnosis, it’s crucial to find out whether you need more extensive treatment for each condition. Determining the severity of your asthma is important to determine the full diagnosis.

If you have severe asthma, doctors need to adjust your treatment plan. Doctors classify severe asthma as asthma that doesn’t respond to medications. 

One of the differences between COPD and asthma that helps with an accurate diagnosis is the age groups that the conditions tend to affect. COPD, for example, is more prevalent among older populations and heavy smokers. It can also affect people with a long history of asthma, and it can be genetic. 

Asthma tends to affect younger populations disproportionately, and many young people with asthma improve over time. Though adult-onset asthma is possible, it is not the chief population of those affected by asthma. 

COPD has long been misconstrued by the public to affect older white men more than other demographics. But the American Lung Association found that women are 37% more likely than men to have the disease, and comprise half the deaths in the US. 


COPD is generally a more severe diagnosis than asthma unless you catch it in its early stages. Asthma is a relatively common condition that can also be severe, though more seldom than COPD.

Diagnosis Methods

Allergists diagnose both conditions by using a breathing test. 

Allergists give patients a spirometry test that gauges your lung capacity and how well air moves in and out of your lungs. 

If your condition is severe enough, the allergist will suggest a CT scan or X-ray that can determine the stage of your condition.

After diagnosing your condition and severity, your allergist can discuss lifestyle adjustments that can help you cope and manage your symptoms.

4. Causes 

The main difference in causes between asthma and COPD is that experts aren’t quite sure why people get asthma. While medical professionals attribute the leading cause of COPD to smoking, asthma is most likely caused by genetics. 

A tiny percentage of COPD patients develop the disease from a genetic disorder that inhibits the protein alpha-1 antitrypsin. Antiprysin helps protect the lungs, but most people who have this deficiency and don’t smoke don’t experience COPD problems. 

5. Treatment  

There’s currently no cure for COPD; it progresses with time, while asthma is a reversible condition. The combination of the two is the most difficult to treat, however. In this situation, early detection and diagnosis are vital. 

Once you recognize symptoms of either COPD or asthma, see an allergist. Treating these symptoms isn’t one-dimensional, and treatments may vary from patient to patient depending on symptoms and other risk factors. 

Treatments for COPD and asthma utilize a variety of medications and supplemental oxygen, possibly even pulmonary lung rehabilitation. Breathing techniques, exercise, and avoiding pollutants are also often recommended. 

If you suffer from COPD, quitting tobacco will be crucial to your treatment. Quitting tobacco restores lung function, and improves the lungs’ air capacity. 

Flu complications can also cause damage to both asthma and COPD patients, so asthma and COPD patients should get a flu vaccine every year. 

What Is an Allergist and Why Should You Consider Seeing One?

An allergist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and managing allergies, asthma, and other immunological disorders.

If you’re concerned that you have asthma or COPD, seeing an allergist can help answer any questions and concerns you may have. Together with them, you’ll be able to properly plan a treatment solution that meets your needs.

See an Allergist if You’re Concerned About COPD and Asthma 

COPD and asthma are severe conditions that you should not take lightly. Due to their similarities, they’re often misdiagnosed which can delay the necessary treatment and care. If you experience symptoms of any kind, set up an appointment with an allergist as soon as you can. 

They can diagnose you and get you started with a personalized treatment plan. To order your medications online, check out our discounted prices!