Difference Between COPD and Asthma

Any condition that causes chronic cough and difficulty in breathing is very difficult to cope with, and are associated with respiratory complications, even probably death. From multitude of conditions that affect the respiratory system, COPD and asthma are two of the commonest. COPD is the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and asthma is bronchial asthma. The differences of these two conditions range from the afflicted demography, risk factors, patho physiology, symptoms and signs, management principles, and the prognosis.


COPD, as the name suggests is a chronic condition that usually affects the elder population, and associated with inhalation of tobacco smoke and other particulate material. There is a genetic predisposition as well. There are two major forms of COPD, namely chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis occurs due to the continued irritation of the lining of the respiratory tract, causing secretion of mucus and proliferation of infective organisms. It usually presents with difficulty in breathing, production of excessive amounts of sputum, which is usually purulent with cough in the absence of a diurnal variation in the symptoms. Emphysema is the irreversible dilatation of the bronchioles; distance to the terminal and the distant bronchioles. This causes reduced outflow of inspired air. The signs, which can be elicited will include rhonchi and crepitations, a barrel shaped chest, with observable pursed lip breathing and some blue tinge in the lips. They are managed with ipratropium bromide, an anticholinergic drug, corticosteroids, and oxygen therapy at reduced partial pressure of about 24-28%. Any respiratory infection requires antibiotic treatment. The complications of this condition include respiratory failure and recurrent infections, with the possibility in the formation of pneumothoracis.


Bronchial asthma (BA) is a respiratory tract condition, where there is an element of chronic inflammatory process with reversible narrowing of the airways and an associated airway hyper responsiveness. This is usually caused by immune mediated mechanisms and/or direct contact with minute particles. There are oedematous cells with mucus plugs, secretion of mucus and thickened basement membranes. The symptoms include, diurnal various symptoms of wheezing and cough with minute amounts of white sputum. Here, on examination of the lungs the patient will have bilateral wheezing sounds/ rhonchi. The management of this condition is by using oxygen and bronchodilators like beta agonists with long term usage of corticosteroids to retard the chronic inflammatory process. If not properly managed there can be sudden death following life threatening asthma attacks or respiratory failure.

What is the difference between COPD and Asthma?

• Both these conditions are chronic inflammatory involving the respiratory tract. But BA can be reversible, whereas COPD is not.

• In COPD there is deformity in the elastic structure of the base particles, in BA, there is a airway hyper responsiveness. Thus, the symptoms are different, as COPD is aggravated by respiratory infection and BA is aggravated by everyday items.

• The management is supportive in COPD, whereas in BA, there is a specific management. Most BA cases resolve by 6-12 months of treatment, whereas COPD is not reversible and continuous. The only efficient treatment is the long term oxygen therapy, but it can be cumbersome and expensive.

• COPD is very much preventable, whereas BA is not preventable. Smoking aggravates both conditions of COPD and BA. Thus, smoking cessation is an important part in prevention RS disease spread.