Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Is There a Connection?

27 May 2020

[Both asthma and COPD are lung diseases that obstruct the airways. Get to know more about them, and if the two conditions are connected.]

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has been rated as the third leading cause of death in America, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). It is a chronic lower respiratory group of diseases that typically encompass conditions like chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

On the other hand, asthma is a chronic lifelong condition that affects the airways. It is characterized by wheezing and difficulty breathing. It is triggered by an allergen such as pollen or dust, which causes the airways to swell.

In both scenarios, they are lung diseases that obstruct your lungs, making it harder for you to breathe. If someone has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), typically they do not have asthma and vice versa.

However, there are scenarios where you will have COPD and asthma together; then, you will have a condition known as Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS).

Who Is Likely to Get Asthma or COPD?

There are very few people; nearly 1% of the people suffering from COPD have a genetic disorder responsible for causing the disease. COPD typically develops in middle-aged and older people because of the risk factors associated with COPD. The risk factors are as follows:

  • Exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Long-term exposure to chemicals and dust
  • People with asthma
  • Overexposure to fumes from burning fuels especially in developing countries

Some of the risk factors that can cause asthma are as follows:

  • Allergies
  • Smoking
  • Lung infections
  • Exposure to irritants in the air
  • Obesity

Most of the risk factors that cause most of the chronic respiratory diseases can be avoided apart from genetics. Here are some of the risk factors for respiratory disease:

  • Allergens
  • Occupational exposure to chemicals and fumes
  • Obesity
  • Outdoor air pollutants
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Indoor air pollutants
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Diet and nutrition

Symptoms

Because COPD and asthma cause your airways to swell, they will cause you to have the following symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

A notable difference is that with COPD, the symptoms are typically constant, and the cough will have phlegm. With asthma, you will experience more of tightness in your chest and wheezing.

Diagnosis

For our doctor to know what disease you have, you will have to answer questions about your medical history. Then our doctor will do a physical exam. After that, he or she will look at your throat and nose and listen to your lungs using a stethoscope.

Be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • If any of your family members have asthma
  • What symptoms do you have
  • What is your occupation and if you are exposed to certain chemicals or irritants
  • If you are a smoker or you have been exposed to secondhand smoke

Our doctor will also perform a test called spirometry, which enables us to check whether your lungs work well. It is a painless and simple way to check how your lungs function. All you have to do is blow into a tube, and the device does the rest.

To check whether you are suffering from COPD, our doctor will do the following:

  • Check the state of your lungs by taking X-rays
  • Perform an arterial blood gas test, which will measure how much oxygen you have in your blood.

How to Test Yourself for COPD

Since COPD can sneak up on you as compared to asthma and may go on for close to 30 years, it is best to know how to test yourself for COPD. “Is COPD a terminal illness?” Yes, it is. The disease is progressive. So, this might help you take immediate action to help you manage the disease.

You need to know that your normal lungs have a large volume and quickly empty because there are no obstructions in the airways. You can check your lung function with the aid of a stopwatch.

First, take a full breath and hold it for one second. Then blow out as hard as you can through your mouth as fast and as hard as possible. You should empty your lungs – you cannot blow out any more air even if you try – for a maximum of six seconds.

If you take longer than six seconds to blow out the air, then your airways are obstructed.

Treatment

For people who have asthma, here are some of the treatments available:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Immunomodulators
  • Anticholinergics
  • Allergy shots

If you have COPD, you will need a treatment plan that will slow down the disease’s progression. This is what you can expect:

  • Bronchodilators
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antibiotics

Then some nondrug treatments can be used to aid with the symptoms:

  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation

Whether you have asthma or COPD or both, it is crucial that you stop smoking and avoid irritants such as allergens, spray chemicals, secondhand smoke, perfumes, and other scents.

We will do our best to help improve the quality of your life if you suffer from COPD or asthma or ACOS (COPD and asthma together) at Memorial Village ER.

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