Is Asthma COPD?

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Dear COPD Coach,
I was only 7 years old when I was diagnosed with Asthma. I was exposed to second-hand smoke from an uncle who was a heavy chain smoker, and he used to share my room at the time. I’m 30 years old now and am starting to experience more attacks and it seems my medications are sometimes useless. When I am experiencing an attack it feels like I’m between the moment of life and death until I get that gasp of air into my lungs. My grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer at 72 and passed away months later. He was also a very heavy smoker and even used to grow his own tobacco.

Should I start seeing a Pulmonary Doctor? I must admit I do get embarrassed when I get these attacks in front of friends and family because they all make me feel like I have some kind of disability, and my self-pride takes a hit because I’m still young and I shouldn’t be going through this, but what can I do? I never asked for this. What steps should I start making... because I don’t know where to start.

Thank you,
–Not Sure Where to Start

Dear Not Sure,
Your letter brings up an interesting topic: Is Asthma the same as COPD? The simple answer is no, although the two can overlap. In other words, it is possible to have a component of both.

The main difference between the two is that COPD is airway obstruction that is not reversible, or not fully reversible. Most cases of asthma are indeed reversible. With that said, there is a fair percentage of people with asthma that cross over that boundary into COPD. In some individuals, years of asthma flare-ups and lung irritation can cause permanent changes in the lungs, leading to COPD. You may well fall into that group.

Exercise As a general rule it is never a bad idea to consult with a lung professional when you are experiencing breathing problems. In your particular case, it could at least rule out a COPD diagnosis, or maybe indicate that something else is going on.

Another test you should consider is for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1), which is a genetic form of COPD inherited from both your parents. (Keep in mind that even if a parent didn’t have symptoms, he or she may still have passed the Alpha-1 gene on to you). When diagnosed with a lung disorder at a very early age and having the severe episodes you describe, Alpha-1 becomes a very real possibility. To find out more information on Alpha-1 check out the Alpha-1 Foundation website.

Another source of help and information is our COPD Information Line 866-316-COPD (2673), which is staffed by individuals who are living with COPD and who are well equipped to answer any questions you may have. The line is open from 9AM to 9PM (EST). You might also check out our Big Fat Reference Guide at Visit It has a lot of great information that can really help you.

Please keep us informed, and rest assured that we are here if you need us!

-The COPD Coach

Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice. If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us at We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.


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  • I was in a bad car wreck when I was seven, so I know how odd it feels to have something wrong that others do not understand. That's about them, not you. I got asthma in my 40's. Diagnosed w/ very severe COPD when I was 55.

    Best thing I ever did was get a GOOD pulmonary doctor. There are some out there that tell you they can do nothing. A good one will give you meds to help, set you up on a rehab routine, and give you good advice.

    It's your health and no matter what the situation was in your youth, that was out of your control. You are now in control of your health and you must take care of yourself. I strongly suggest a workout program to build muscle, which will help you breathe easier. Just use a pulse oximeter and if your sats get low, stop and do some purse lip deep breathing until they come up.

    Don't ever be embarrassed about your health problems. Just excuse yourself and go in another room and take a nebulizer treatment, or whatever you need to do. They put me on oxygen 24/7 when I was 55. People in my small town looked at me like I grew another head. Then I spoke with others that told me I am helping to save my lungs by using it. I'm not embarrassed any more.

    Everyone has something going on that you know nothing about. Don't worry about them, take care of your own issues and it will take care of itself. Best of luck on your journey.
  • Hi All, I just want to ask if anyone ever tried using medical cannabis as an alternative meds? I have read many articles about medical marijuana and how it can help you in terms of chronic pain, glaucoma, eating disorder/anorexia, anxiety disorders and panic attacks, inflammation, even cancer and a lot more. Like this article about a marijuana strain called Timewreck from . Cbd and thc are also new to me and I don't even smoke. If this is true I cant find any solid conclusive evidence that speaks to its efficacy. Any personal experience or testimonial would be highly appreciated. Thanks

  • I have had asthma all my life. I now have COPD because as the coach says it sometimes overlaps. Best thing you could do is get a pulmonary Dr. to evaluate you.


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