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Two of the most common breathing ailments are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. While the two conditions have similarities, they have important differences. Let’s look at how they’re defined and treated.
With COPD, airways in the lungs become inflamed, making it more difficult to breathe. The American Lung Association (ALA), reports COPD affects more than 12 million Americans. In the United States, it’s actually the sixth leading cause of overall death behind heart disease, cancer, COVID-19, accidents and stroke. While there are several causes for COPD, the most common is smoking. People with COPD have a greater risk of developing lung cancer, heart disease and other serious health conditions.
Many people don’t know they have COPD until it has reached an advanced stage. Symptoms of COPD can include:
If you have any of these symptoms, reach out to your doctor right away. The earlier COPD is diagnosed, the more successfully it can be treated. Depending on your symptoms and health history, there are different approaches to treatment. These include:
Your doctor will explain which is best for you and why.
More than 25 million Americans are living with asthma—including 5.5 million children — according to ALA. While there is no cure for asthma, it can be successfully treated to allow people to live normal, healthy lives. Much like COPD, asthma is caused by inflammation of the lung’s airways that makes it hard to breathe.
Symptoms are similar to COPD and include:
One difference between the two diseases is that asthma is usually diagnosed early in life. COPD shows up later, especially in smokers. Asthma can also be tied to genetics and family history. If one of your parents has asthma, you have a greater risk of developing the condition.
There isn’t a cure for asthma, so controlling it is important. To help you, your doctor will:
Your lung health is important. If you're experiencing shortness of breath or other related symptoms, talk with your doctor.
Originally published 9/24/2018; Revised 2019, 2021, 2023
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Last Updated 10012018Y0096_WEB_IL_CONNECT19_C