Asthma, COPD and bronchitis: Key differences in common respiratory diseases

By: Bel Marra Health | Asthma | Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 03:00 PM

difference between Asthma, COPD and bronchitisCommon respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis and COPD can seriously impact a person’s quality of life, but proper diagnosis and treatment can help those who suffer live more comfortably. Understanding the differences between asthma, COPD and bronchitis can help lead to appropriate care.

The differences between asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, are often more clear once risk factors are examined. Risk factors for asthma are different from risk factors for COPD. With asthma the primary risk factors include allergens, such as dust, pets and mold. Occupational factors are also associated with asthma. This could include dust or chemicals in the workplace. Some people with asthma also experience respiratory infections. When it comes to COPD, smoking is the biggest contributing factor. Occupational factors also exist, but it is normally strong chemicals entering the lungs that lead to the damage. Outdoor pollution and alcoholism are risk factors for COPD, too.

If you have a respiratory infection, it is true you can get bronchitis, but there are other risk factors that don’t resemble asthma or COPD. For example, some people who suffer from bronchitis have a bronchial obstruction, while others have experienced complications following an organ transplant.

Asthma vs. chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Asthma vs. chronic obstructive pulmonary diseaseAsthma is a respiratory condition that comes with spasms in the bronchi of the lungs that make it difficult to breathe. It is often mistaken for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. When someone has COPD they experience a decrease in airflow over a period of time. They also have inflammation of the tissues that line the airway. The issue of asthma vs. COPD is really about age.

People with asthma are normally diagnosed at a young age; however, COPD symptoms usually appear in adults over the age of 40 who currently smoke or smoked at some point in their lives. The triggers for asthma are also different than those for COPD. For example, asthma is made worse by allergens, cold air and exercise. COPD sufferers feel worse when they experience respiratory infections, such as the common flu, pneumonia or environmental pollution. What sometimes confuses both patients and doctors is that asthma and COPD can share similar symptoms, including shortness of breath and airway hyper-responsiveness. This is when our airways are very sensitive to things we inhale.

Both asthma and COPD can be treated. Quitting smoking and applying treatments that can open airways can be helpful. Still, loss of full lung function is only reversible in people who suffer from asthma. If someone is diagnosed with both asthma and COPD, it will likely lead to a faster decline in lung function as the COPD progresses.

Difference between asthma and bronchitis

asthma vs bronchitisAbout 12 million people in the United States suffer from bronchitis every year. It is characterized by irritation of the mucous membranes lining the airways. Although there are similarities between asthma and bronchitis, they really aren’t the same disease and therefore require different treatments.

During an asthma attack you will often find that in addition to having difficulty breathing, people will also wheeze. Many sufferers have also reported tightness in the chest. In the case of bronchitis, there is also normally a hacking cough. It can be with or without phlegm. Chronic bronchitis involves a persistent phlegm-producing cough.

Chronic bronchitis can be diagnosed with a pulmonary function test. This will enable doctors to check airflow in the lungs. A chest x-ray can also be taken. Unfortunately, diagnosing asthma is more complex. It involves testing to check airway obstruction and a patient’s ability to exhale under various conditions.

While asthma treatment focuses on limiting exposure to triggers and controlling inflammation, bronchitis treatment includes a number of different strategies. The flu vaccine, anti-inflammation treatments, antibiotics, and bronchodilators to open airways could be applied. There are also treatments that focus on helping to clear excess mucus.

Know about asthmatic bronchitis

Asthma and bronchitis are defined as two inflammatory airway diseases. While they have distinct differences, as outlined above, asthma and acute bronchitis can occur together. This is known as asthmatic bronchitis.

A number of factors can contribute to asthmatic bronchitis. What triggers the symptoms in one person may be different than what causes a flare-up in another; however, the following are the most common factors:

  • Know about asthmatic bronchitisPollution
  • Chemicals
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pollen, mold, dust
  • Food additives
  • Pet allergies
  • Certain medications (aspirin, beta-blockers)
  • Weather (extreme hot or cold)
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Emotions (laughing or crying)

As you may have guessed, the symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis are a combination of asthma and bronchitis. They include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, tightness in chest and the production of phlegm.

Due to a virus or bacteria bronchitis can be contagious, however chronic asthmatic bronchitis is not contagious.

Respiratory diseases affect people of all ages- children, teens, adults and seniors. Most of these diseases, such as asthma, bronchitis and COPD, are chronic and all have a significant impact on the individual with the disease, as well as on family, the community and the health care system. It’s in everyone’s interest to gain a better understanding of respiratory ailments, not only so current patients can breathe easier, but so that we can prevent future generations from suffering.

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