Distinguishing adult-onset asthma from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) can be difficult, as they share many traits. However, it is important to know the causes, symptoms, and triggers of each so you can make the right medical decisions for your health and comfort.
What Causes Adult-Onset Asthma?
When asthma develops in a child, the root cause is typically genetics. While adult-onset asthma can also be hereditary, it most commonly displays itself as a reaction to the environment around you. Common causes of adult-onset asthma include smoking, air pollution, increased sensitivity to allergies, exercise-induced lung strain, etc. These triggers cause the muscles in your airway to constrict, blocking airflow.
Additionally, women experiencing hormonal changes (such as menopause) can suddenly begin displaying asthma symptoms. As with all cases of asthma, adult-onset asthma ranges in severity and triggers. Even if your symptoms are mild, prioritize your lung health and contact a doctor.
What Causes COPD?
Like adult-onset asthma, COPD generally develops according to the environment. However, your body reacts a little differently to the environment if COPD is the issue. Rather than merely constricting the muscles in your airways, your body reacts to foreign pollutants by destroying the alveoli (air sacs) at the end of your bronchioles. Because your alveoli play an important role in transporting oxygen to your lungs, their destruction makes breathing difficult.
While COPD can be caused by chronic smoking and other use of tobacco products, chronic bronchitis also acts as a trigger.
How Can Distinguish Between Adult-Onset Asthma and COPD?
While neither COPD nor adult-onset asthma is curable, they are treatable. Because they are so similar in nature, it is important to receive a correct diagnosis so that you can manage symptoms accordingly.
Your physician plays a key role in helping you understand your lung condition. However, generally speaking, the symptoms are not exactly the same. Adult-onset asthma displays itself in random episodes of wheezing and tight-chestedness. If you have COPD, your cough will likely be chronic and consistent.
Your doctor will diagnose your lung disease using the following methods:
- Ask about your family’s health history.
- Determine whether or not you smoke, the quality of the air you breathe daily, and other allergens or pollutants you may be ingesting.
- Take a spirometry test.
- Test various asthma triggers.
- Measure your oxygen level.
Who Should You See for Your Lung Condition?
If you haven’t been officially diagnosed with adult-onset asthma or COPD, call your primary physician first. Generally speaking, your diagnosis will not affect what type of doctor you see for treatment. Rather, the type of doctor you need is determined by what triggers your lung problems.
If you suspect or discover that one or more allergens cause your difficulty breathing, make it a priority to visit an allergist. Dust, mold, pet dander, pollen, ragweed, and other allergens can contribute to lung inflammation and worsen both COPD and asthma triggers.
For more general lung problems originating within your body (not with the environment), you will see a pulmonologist. Pulmonologists specialize in the respiratory system and assist with severe and complicated lung problems.
Make your lung health a priority. If you suspect that you suffer from adult-onset asthma or COPD, call a doctor to schedule a test.