Asthma & COPD: What’s The Difference?

What Is The Difference Between Asthma And Copd?

Have you just been diagnosed with Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), or are you supporting a loved one who has one of these conditions? 

Asthma and COPD conditions significantly impact respiratory health but differ in their cause, symptoms, and treatment methods, so understanding their differences is important.

At Click2Pharmacy, we want to help raise awareness and understanding of these conditions, so we’ve written this helpful guide on the differences between Asthma and COPD to guide you.

The Difference Between Asthma & COPD: At A Glance

DefinitionA disease that inflames the airwaysProgressive lung disease from exposure to irritants over a long period
CausesGenetics, allergies, respiratory infections during childhoodSmoking, chemicals and dust, air pollution
SymptomsWheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing Wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing 
Age of DevelopmentTypically develops during childhoodMost people are diagnosed after the age of 50
TreatmentInhalers, avoiding allergens, steroid tablets, injections, surgeryBronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, allergy medicines, surgery, steroid medication
PrognosisCan be managed with treatmentA decline in lung function over time 

Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are both chronic conditions that affect your lungs and breathing. Asthma often begins in childhood, involving inflammation and narrowing of the airways, and is often linked to allergies, environmental factors, and genetics. 

COPD involves long-term damage to the lungs, making it harder to breathe over time and typically affects older adults, especially those who smoke or have a history of smoking. 

Both conditions share symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. These similarities sometimes make distinguishing between the two without medical tests challenging.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways in your lungs, making them inflamed and narrow. Asthma can affect people of all ages, and its severity varies from person to person, causing significant disruption to some individuals’ daily lives. The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but genetics, environmental factors, seasonal allergies and respiratory infections during childhood are thought to be factors in the development of asthma.

What Are The Symptoms Of Asthma?

Asthma symptoms can worsen in response to specific triggers, such as allergens, cold air, exercise, or stress, and may require different treatment strategies. However, symptoms generally include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Tightness

Diagnosing Asthma: Steps & Tests

Diagnosing asthma involves a detailed examination to accurately identify and manage the condition, combining physical exams and lung function tests. 

The first step is a thorough conversation with your doctor about your symptoms, including how often you get them, when, and any specific triggers you’ve noticed. Your doctor will also ask about any family history of asthma or related allergies to understand potential genetic causes.

Asthma Tests

Your doctor should perform a physical examination to identify any signs of allergic reactions or indicators of asthma. This may include observing skin conditions linked to allergies or physical signs of breathing difficulties.

  • Spirometry Test: Measures the volume and speed of air you can exhale, offering insights into your breathing patterns and potential airway obstruction.
  • FeNO Test: Measures the amount of nitric oxide in your breath, an indicator of lung inflammation commonly seen in asthma.

Treatment For Asthma

Although there is no cure for asthma, a personalised asthma action plan focusing on instant symptom relief and long-term control effectively manages the condition. 


One of the main asthma management methods is inhalers, with options including:

  • Reliever Inhalers: Ventolin Evohalers, Airomir Inhalers, and Salamol CFC-Free Inhalers are commonly prescribed for instant symptom relief as they work quickly to open the airways, providing rapid relief from wheezing and shortness of breath.
  • Preventer Inhalers: These are essential for daily use, aiming to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms over time by calming down the inflammation in the airways, making them less sensitive to triggers.
  • Combination Inhalers: These inhalers are effective for both prevention and relief, combining the long-acting effects of preventers with the immediate relief provided by relievers.

Tools like the AeroChamber Plus Asthma Spacer can be used to enhance the delivery of the medication, making it easier to inhale the correct dose effectively.

Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRAs)

LTRAs are tablets that help control asthma by blocking the effects of leukotrienes, chemicals in the body that can cause asthma symptoms. They can be an alternative for those who prefer not to use inhalers or as an addition to existing therapy.

Steroid Tablets

For severe asthma flare-ups, short courses of steroid tablets can be prescribed to reduce airway inflammation quickly. However, due to potential side effects, they are usually used for the shortest possible duration.


Injectable medications called biologic therapies target specific parts of the immune system that drive inflammation in severe asthma. They are considered for patients with severe asthma that doesn’t respond well to other treatments.


In rare cases, surgery might be an option for treating severe asthma. Procedures like bronchial thermoplasty reduce the muscle mass lining the airways, decreasing the ability of these airways to constrict and thus reducing asthma symptoms.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Reducing exposure to common allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mould can be achieved through air purifiers, regular washing of bedding, and keeping pets away from sleeping areas. It’s also important to create a smoke-free environment at home and limit outdoor activities when air quality is poor to avoid irritants like tobacco smoke and pollution. 

If your asthma symptoms worsen when exercising, warming up before physical activity and indoor exercise during cold weather or when air quality is low can help manage symptoms.

What is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD)?

COPD is a common lung condition that involves two primary diseases: emphysema and chronic Bronchitis. Each condition affects your lungs differently, but both cause breathing difficulties.


Emphysema primarily affects your lungs’ air sacs (alveoli). Over time, the inner walls of the air sacs weaken and rupture, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches your bloodstream and making exhalation difficult, causing shortness of breath.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic Bronchitis causes inflammation of the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs, producing thick mucus. This mucus can block the airways and cause a persistent cough.

COPD generally develops over time and is the result of long-term damage to the lungs from inhaling harmful substances. Typically, smoking is the leading cause, but exposure to air pollution, workplace dust, and chemical fumes can also contribute.

What Are The Symptoms Of COPD?

The symptoms of COPD can change from one person to another but typically include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Breathlessness
  • Frequent chest infections
  • Wheezing

Diagnosing COPD: Steps & Tests

The diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a thorough process that evaluates the severity and extent of the condition. A thorough diagnostic process means doctors can accurately identify COPD and tailor a treatment plan that addresses each patient’s needs to improve lung function and enhance quality of life.

The diagnosis begins with discussing your symptoms, smoking history, and potential exposure to environmental irritants, such as dust, chemicals, or air pollution. This conversation helps to establish the likelihood of COPD and identify any risk factors.

Your doctor should then do a physical exam to look for any symptoms of COPD, such as wheezing sounds or breathing difficulties.

COPD Tests

Your doctor should then do a physical exam to look for any symptoms of COPD, such as wheezing sounds or breathing difficulties. Additionally, they may perform other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Spirometry Test: Spirometry measures your lung function by assessing how much air you can inhale and exhale and the speed of your breath. You’ll breathe into a spirometer, and the results will help identify any airflow obstruction.

Imaging Tests: Chest X-rays or CT scans provide detailed images of your lungs. These imaging tests are important for seeing lung damage and excluding other lung conditions with similar symptoms, such as lung cancer or heart failure.

Blood Tests: Blood tests may be needed to measure your blood’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. These tests help determine the severity of your condition and how well your lungs are working.

Treatment For COPD

Managing COPD involves medical treatment, lifestyle changes, and supportive therapies to improve quality of life and manage symptoms effectively.


Medications like bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids help open the airways and reduce lung inflammation. Combination inhalers like the Airomir Auto Inhaler and the Ventolin Accuhaler offer a convenient way to receive both types of medication, simplifying treatment and enhancing symptom control. 

Steroid Tablets

For bad flare-ups, short-term courses of steroid tablets can be effective in reducing inflammation quickly but are used carefully to avoid side effects.

Lifestyle Adjustments

Quitting smoking is the most impactful to slow the disease’s progression and improve treatment outcomes. Additionally, avoiding exposure to environmental pollutants and irritants can prevent symptom flare-ups. Adopting a healthy diet and engaging in regular, moderate physical activity strengthens your respiratory system and overall health.

Lung Rehabilitation & Therapies

Pulmonary rehabilitation combines exercise, education, and support to help people with COPD breathe easier. Additionally, for those with severe COPD and low levels of oxygen in their blood, oxygen therapy can help provide the necessary oxygen the body needs.

Surgery Options

In advanced stages of COPD, where other treatments have failed, surgery may be considered for symptom relief and improved lung function. Two of the main surgical options are:

Lung Volume Reduction Surgery: Removes damaged lung tissue to help the remaining healthier tissue work more effectively, potentially easing breathing difficulties.

Bullectomy: Targets and removes large air spaces known as bullae from the lungs, which can improve lung expansion and reduce breathlessness.

Can You Have Asthma and COPD Together?

A person can have both asthma and COPD, a condition referred to as Asthma-COPD Overlap (ACO). This overlap includes characteristics of both diseases, making diagnosis and treatment challenging. Diagnosing ACO involves careful evaluation of symptoms, medical history, and lung function tests and is identified by persistent airflow limitation, common in COPD, but with the airway hyper-responsiveness of asthma. 

People with ACO often experience more frequent exacerbations, have a lower quality of life, and may face a more rapid decline in lung function compared to those with asthma or COPD alone. 

Take Control Of Asthma With Click2Pharmacy

Dealing with Asthma or COPD can be challenging, but at Click2Pharmacy, we are committed to providing the support you need. Our online asthma treatment clinic and allergy treatment clinic offer effective treatments to help manage and relieve uncomfortable respiratory symptoms.

With the ease of our short online consultations, you can have your private prescriptions or NHS prescriptions delivered straight to your door.