The Link between Asthma & COPD

(November 1, 2012)

November celebrates World COPD Day & The Great American Smoke Out

While asthma is a leading chronic childhood disease affecting approximately 10 percent of the population nationally, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading chronic adult disease and is currently the third leading cause of death and second leading cause of disability. Some patients can have both asthma and COPD and studies show a direct correlation between severity of asthma as a child and the incidence of COPD. Meaning that children who suffer from severe, persistent asthma are nearly 32 times more likely to develop COPD in adulthood, where children with mild asthma were not at an increased risk. Here are some examples about similarities and difference between the two diseases:


  • Asthma and COPD are diseases of chronic inflammation of the airways that causes airflow limitation, also known as obstruction.
  • Shortness of breath, wheeze and cough are symptoms experienced by both asthma and COPD patients.
  • Viral infections and exposure to tobacco smoke, indoor air pollution, environmental pollution, and occupational pollution can all cause and asthma or COPD exacerbation.
  • Asthma and COPD are both diagnosed through the use of spirometry.


  • Asthma is defined as an obstruction that is reversible, where COPD is an obstruction that is irreversible.
  • While both asthma and COPD affect the airways, COPD is also caused by the breakdown of parenchyma tissue surrounding the airways.
  • The inflammation occurring in asthma and COPD are different. Asthma is primarily eosinophilic caused by allergies, where COPD is neutrophilic caused by bacteria.
  • Asthma and COPD respond differently to anti-inflammatory medications due to the differences in inflammation.
  • The goal of treatment is different for both diseases; asthma is treated to suppress chronic inflammation, where COPD is treated to reduce symptoms.

Many patients with long-standing asthma develop airway remodeling that causes a chronic irreversible airflow obstruction, or COPD. Airway remodeling occurs in patients with severe asthma that is often not well controlled. Many patients who develop COPD will need to continue to treat the inflammation caused by their asthma as well as add treatments to manage the symptoms of COPD and retain as much lung function as possible.

Celebrate World COPD Day November 14, 2012 and The Great American Smoke Out November 15, 2012 to raise awareness about the growing number of people developing COPD and to help those COPD patients quit smoking. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD with smoking cessation cited as the best way to slow down the progression of COPD. Exposure to tobacco smoke is also a trigger for children with asthma and therefore parents who smoke should always be encouraged to quit, or at the least, not smoke around their child.

For information on the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking program to help your patients or loved ones quit smoking click here. For information on COPD click here or call the Lung Helpline at 1-800-LUNG-USA.

The Enhancing Asthma Care Project in Illinois is supported by Health Care Service Corporation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Families Initiative and lead by the American Lung Association in Chicago. This joint initiative aims to work with 15 clinics that serve high-risk populations to improve pediatric asthma care to an estimated 30,000 children in Illinois.