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Asthma vs. COPD

Often times the signs and symptoms of asthma are confused with the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by both the patient and physician; however the two are different and require different treatments.

A recent presentation at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting showed that “as many as 50 percent of older adults with obstructive airway disease have overlapping characteristics of asthma and COPD. And this percentage increases as people get older.”

Why is this?

Presenters determined that while the symptoms can be difficult to differentiate, the pathway to those symptoms is critical during the diagnosis stage. According to presenters, measurement of lung function, age of the patient, and smoking history are all good places to start when determining differences between asthma and COPD patients.

If a patient has already been diagnosed with one or the other and is not experiencing any symptom change, presenters recommend looking at the treatment the patient is receiving as they may have been misdiagnosed. This misdiagnoses and treatment can often lead to increased risk for exacerbations of both asthma and COPD.

"The primary treatment in COPD is bronchodilators. They help relax muscles around the airways in the lungs, allowing air to flow more freely," said allergist Michael Foggs, MD, ACAAI president. "They should not be given alone to people with asthma.”

Instead, asthma patients best respond to inhaled corticosteroids, however the use of inhaled corticosteroids in COPD patients has been associated with an “increased risk for pneumonia.”

Each patient’s signs and symptoms should be treated on a case-by-case basis, as personal triggers vary, but sharing all symptoms and medical history will help allergists to determine a correct diagnoses and treatment option.

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