Asthma, Emphysema And Bronchitis: Know The Differences

Asthma, Emphysema And Bronchitis are chronic inflammatory lung diseases that cause swelling in the airways.

Asthma, emphysema, bronchitis are the diseases of lung airways. All three conditions affect breathing, but they differ in pathogenesis, severity, causes and treatment. Asthma causes tightening of muscles and inflammation around airways causing difficulty to breathe. Emphysema and bronchitis can be included in COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease of lung) and affect smaller airways, alveolar sac and cause inflammation with increased mucus production.

Here, Dr Harveen Sethi, Consultant Pathologist, Ampath Labs, Nagpur, tells us more about these chronic lung diseases, including their causes and treatment options.

Q. What causes asthma, emphysema and bronchitis?

Both Asthma and COPD have inherited (genetic causes) as well as external environment causes, but they differ.

Causes of Asthma:

  • Genetic (inherited causes): It has been noted to see this condition 3-6 times more in patients with suffering biological parents.
  • Allergies due to pollens, mite, dust, season change,pet hair etc.
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Occupational exposure to dust and others
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

The severity of asthma may vary from person to person and may become severe with certain allergens.

Causes of COPD (Emphysema and Bronchitis)

  • Genetic: alpha1 anti trypsin deficiency
  • Smoking (major cause)
  • Occupational exposure to chemicals, dust, fumes
  • Exposure to passive smoking, biomass fuel, burning coal
  • History of asthma or childhood infections

The severity increases if not treated and smoking worsens the condition.

Q. Can one have both asthma and COPD?

Yes, Asthma and COPD overlap (ACO) is Asthma-COPD link condition. Researchers have found that children with asthma since childhood are more likely to develop COPD in their later stages. Experts think either asthma causes COPD or asthma triggers one of the factors that makes COPD more likely in such cases.

Q. How these lung diseases differ in terms of symptoms?

All these three conditions present with shortness of breath and chest tightening. Asthma in addition have wheezing while COPD have cough with sputum production. Patients with COPD may also have gray or blue lips or nails, chest pain, unexplained weight loss.

Some may have worsening of symptoms with season change, winters, allergens and smoking.

Q. Which tests are required for the diagnosis of asthma and COPD?

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above for long time, visit your doctor for the following tests.

  1. Proper history about smoking, occupation, allergens, childhood infections.
  2. Chest X Ray: To look for lung condition.
  3. Spirometry: Checks the capacity of lungs.
  4. Arterial Blood Gas Analysis: COPD drops arterial Oxygen, hence this test.
  5. Sputum Test: To rule out infection.
  6. Gene Test: To confirm genetic causes.
  7. Allergen Test and repeat Spirometry: To confirm allergen.

Q. What are the treatment options available for asthma and COPD?

The main aim in such conditions is to relieve symptoms and prevent worsening. Avoiding the causative agent, allergens, smoking, and others provide relief.

Other treatment options include:


  1. Inhaled short acting beta 2 agonist (SABA)
  2. Oral corticosteroids
  3. Long acting bronchodilators
  4. Immunomodulators
  5. Leukotriene modifiers.



  • Long and short acting bronchodilators
  • PDE4 inhibitors
  • Oxygen Therapy


  • Beta agonist to reduce wheezing
  • Analgesic and antipyretic to ease fever
  • Lozenges, Hot tea, honey, ginger

Both asthma and COPD can't be cured. However, treatment can help reduce the symptoms and prevent complications. In some cases of childhood asthma, the disease goes away completely after childhood.

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