What is the Difference Between Asthma and COPD

The main difference between asthma and COPD is that asthma triggers and produces symptoms due to allergens, whereas COPD symptoms are constant and can get worse over time.

Asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are two breathing illnesses that produce similar symptoms. Wheezing and difficulty in breathing are the symptoms of both lung diseases. However, asthma is typically diagnosed in childhood and adolescence, and COPD is diagnosed in later life.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Asthma
– Definition, Facts, Features
2. What is COPD
– Definition, Facts, Features
3. Similarities Between Asthma and COPD
– Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Asthma and COPD
– Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ – Asthma and COPD
– Answers to frequently asked questions

Key Terms  

Asthma, COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Bronchitis, Emphysema

Difference Between Asthma and COPD - Comparison Summary

What is Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease usually affecting people of all ages. Inflammation and muscle tightening around the airways, which makes it harder to breathe, cause asthma. Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness are the symptoms of asthma. They can be mild or severe and can come and go over time. However, asthma is a serious condition, which can be managed with the correct treatment.

Compare Asthma and COPD

Figure 1: Asthma 

Under-treated asthma can cause sleep disturbance, tiredness during the day, and poor concentration. Severe asthma can cause death. The symptoms can get severe at night or with exercise. More importantly, asthma has a family history. Also, allergic conditions such as eczema and rhinitis can cause asthma. Urbanization increases the prevalence of asthma. However, early life conditions such as prematurity, low birth weight, exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollution, and viral respiratory infections can cause asthma. 

Meanwhile, exposure to environmental allergens and irritants increases the risk of asthma. House dust mites, molds, chemicals, fumes, and dust can cause asthma. Moreover, children with overweight or obese have a greater risk of asthma.   

What is COPD

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is another lung disease causing restricted airways and breathing problems. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are other names for COPD. Cough with or without phlegm, wheezing, difficulty in breathing, and tiredness are the symptoms of COPD. Smoking and exposure to air pollution can worsen the disease. However, COPD can be treated with oxygen, medicines, and pulmonary rehabilitation.

Asthma vs COPD

Figure 2: COPD  

People with COPD have a higher risk of other health problems, including lung infections such as flu or pneumonia, heart problems, lung cancer, brittle bones and weak muscles, depression, and anxiety. Mid-life is the age of onset of COPD. 

The risk factors of COPD include tobacco exposure from active smoking or passive exposure, exposure to dust, fumes, or chemicals, indoor air pollution, early life events such as prematurity, frequent or severe respiratory infections, and asthma in childhood, and genetic conditions such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which causes COPD in young age.  

Similarities Between Asthma and COPD

  • Asthma and COPD are breathing illnesses.
  • They produce similar symptoms, including wheezing and difficulty in breathing.  

Difference Between Asthma and COPD


Asthma refers to a chronic lung disease affecting people of all ages; it is caused by inflammation and muscle tightening around the airways, which makes it harder to breathe. In comparison, COPD refers to a common lung disease causing restricted airflow and breathing problems; it is sometimes called emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

Age of Onset

The age of onset of asthma is less than 40 years, while the age of onset of COPD is greater than 40 years.

Smoking History

Smoking is not related to asthma while smoking over more than 10 years can cause COPD.

Sputum Production

Sputum production is infrequent in asthma, while sputum production is often in COPD.


Asthma can occur due to allergies, while COPD, occurring due to allergies, is infrequent.

Disease State

The disease state is stable in asthma, while the disease state is progressively worsening in COPD.

Clinical Symptoms

Clinical symptoms are intermittent and variable in asthma, while clinical symptoms are persistent in COPD. 

FAQ: Asthma and COPD

Which is more severe, asthma or COPD? 

Severe asthma without prompt treatment can cause death. In comparison, COPD is progressive and has more long-term consequences leading to death.   

Does asthma turn into COPD? 

Asthma does not necessarily turn into COPD. Poorly controlled asthma with damaged lungs and continuous exposure to irritants such as tobacco increase the risk of COPD. 

What are the 4 stages of COPD? 

Mild, moderate, severe, and very severe are the four stages of asthma. Spirometry, a breathing test, can assess lung function by measuring the amount of air breathed. 


In brief, asthma and COPD are two lung diseases. Wheezing and difficulty in breathing are common symptoms of both diseases. Asthma affects children and adolescents. The common cause of asthma is allergies. Also, asthma is a stable disease. In comparison, COPD occurs in people in age over 40. Also, unlike asthma, sputum production is often in COPD. Additionally, COPD is progressively worsening. Therefore, the main difference between asthma and COPD is the disease conditions.  

  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Asthma. World Health Organization.
  2. World Health Organization. (n.d.-b). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). World Health Organization.
Image Courtesy:
  1. Asthma illustration” By NIH Image Gallery – Own Work (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED) via flickr
  2. COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Illustration” By NIH Image Gallery – Own Work (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED) via flickr

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things. She has a keen interest in writing articles regarding science.

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