Asthma or COPD? What is the Difference?

Asthma and COPD both are chronic obstructive respiratory disorders. They involve having difficulty when exhaling which results in an accumulation of air in the lungs, they do have similarities but are actually two separate diseases. 

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. Symptoms of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, coughing can be triggered by a number of things. Some examples include, air pollution, chemicals, emotions, exercise, pollen and smoking. It is separated by periods of mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Asthma can be present in young children all the way through to adulthood. 

Asthma is treated by the use of medication, performing controlled breathing as well as removing the environmental trigger if possible. Common medications for asthma are bronchodilators to decrease bronchospasm by opening up the airways, these are rapid acting and used only when needed. Anti-inflammatories are also used to decrease inflammatory component of the disease and are used usually on a daily basis.

COPD Is a chronic progressive disease which is characterised by an obstruction to air flow, usually presents in individual’s over 45y.o. commonly among smokers or ex-smokers. Symptoms become persistent unlike asthma which are usually intermittent. COPD has some similar signs and symptoms such as SOB, wheezing, coughing and chest pain but individuals can also experience sputum (mucus) production, a loss of appetite, fever and weight loss. It is also not completely reversible with the use of medications, compared to asthma with the use symptoms are usually resolved. 

COPD is treated by medications, pulmonary rehab, oxygen therapy (if oxygen saturation is too low) or surgery (bullectomy or lung transplant). Common medications for COPD include Bronchodilators, Beta-2 agonists (decreases bronchoconstriction), Antimuscarinic (blocks bronchoconstriction), Methylxanthines (relaxes airways) and Inhaled corticosteroids (improves lung function)

Exercise Physiology is a viable long-term treatment option as it has range of benefits. By participating in exercise this strengthens the muscles surrounding our lungs, allowing them to not work as hard which results in increase in exercise tolerance, less dyspnea experienced, improved breathing patterns and ability to remove sputum (mucus). When we are able to have improvements in these areas this leads to an improvement in overall health status, reduced hospitalisations and less reliance on medications. Exercise physiology can help by preventing disease progression, as well as prevent and treat exacerbations.


Ubolnuar, N., Tantisuwat, A., Thaveeratitham, P., Lertmaharit, S., Kruapanich, C., & Mathiyakom, W. (2019). Effects of Breathing Exercises in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Annals of rehabilitation medicine, 43(4), 509–523.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Cat. no. ACM 35. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 27 May 2020,

Book an appointment with your healthcare professional