Respiratory problems are medical conditions that affect the respiratory system of the human body that includes the lungs. Asthma and COPD are diseases that affect the lungs and both cause the airways to swell up and make it difficult to breathe.
Asthma and COPD patients usually experience similar symptoms like shortness of breath and airway-hyperresponsiveness where the airways are very sensitive during inhalation.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory disease where the swelling of the airways is usually caused by some triggers that the patient is allergic to, like pollen, mold or any physical activity.
What is COPD?
COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a collective term that is used to describe progressive respiratory diseases like Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis.
- Emphysema is the medical condition where the alveoli, the tiny sacs in the lungs, are damaged, while,
- Chronic Bronchitis is the condition where the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs, are inflamed.
The doctor will determine which disease, Asthma or COPD; the patient is suffering from by doing the following,
- Physical Examination: is usually done by examining the nose and the throat and also by listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. The doctor might ask the following:
- The symptoms experienced by the patient
- Any family history of asthma or allergies
- If the patient is a smoker or is around smokers a lot
- If the patient works near chemicals or other substances that can cause irritation to the lungs
- Spirometry: is a diagnostic test that will check the working of the lungs. The patient will be asked to blow into a mouthpiece and the device will measure the air the patient can blow out and the speed at which it is done.
- Bronchodilator: is a medicine, which the patient will be asked to breathe in and then take a spirometry test again. This is done if the doctor suspects the patient has asthma. This medicine will help the lungs work better.
- Challenge Test: is done to diagnose asthma. The patient is asked to breathe in an asthma trigger, such a strong scent or the drug methacholine. Then the patient will have to undergo the spirometry test again, which will check if the airways have narrowed, as weaker airflow is a sign of asthma.
- Chest X-Ray: will take the image of the lungs to show congestion, if any
- Arterial Blood Gas Test: is used to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood as COPD leads to a drop in blood oxygen level.
The doctor can prescribe any of the two following types of medicines,
- Quick-Relief Medicines: will help relax the airways, letting in more air into the lungs. Doctors prescribe them usually when there is an asthma attack to stop the wheezing and other symptoms quickly. Some of them are:
- Short-Acting Beta-agonists help the muscles around the airways to relax
- Anticholinergics will help in relaxing the airways as well as reduce the amount of mucus in the lungs.
- Long-Term Medicines: are usually prescribed to suppress the asthma symptoms as much as possible. They have to be taken on a daily basis. Some of them are:
- Corticosteroids: help bring down the swelling in the lungs.
- Long-Acting Beta-Antagonists: are inhaled to relax the muscles around the airways to help breathe in more easily.
- Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: will keep the airways from swelling.
- Leukotrine Modifiers: help block the process that swells up the airways.
- Allergy Shots: is a type of immunotherapy that is used when the asthma is triggered by allergies.
The patient suffering from COPD will experience symptoms that will worsen over time and doctors usually try to slow this down.
- Medications: Doctors might prescribe similar medicines to asthma, like corticosteroids. Some of the other medicines prescribed for COPD are:
- Bronchodilators help relax the muscles of the airways.
- Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) Inhibitors are used to prevent COPD flare-ups by bringing down the swelling.
- Antibiotics lessen the risk of COPD symptoms to worsen by treating the infection causing them.
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation: will teach the patient to perform specific exercises, follow a diet, and other tips that can help in living with COPD.
- Supplemental Oxygen: will be recommended to the patient to use by breathing in oxygen from a tank or machine.
- Surgery: might be opted to remove the damaged parts of the lungs, leading to the healthy parts of the lungs to work better.