Can Asthma Turn Into COPD?

Woman outside holding inhaler to help relive asthma symptoms.

You may be familiar with the term “asthma” and its symptoms, but take a look below to learn more about its common triggers as well as its relationship to other lung-related illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Graphic icon of person coughing into hand.Asthma 101

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the airways in your lungs to become swollen, narrowed, or inflamed [1]. Although there are many different types of asthma (including allergic, non-allergic, adult-onset, and pediatric asthma)[2], common symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness or pain

Asthma can also contribute to increased mucus production in your lungs [3], thus triggering a respiratory infection. In fact, during an attack, your body may produce excess mucus that clogs your airways, making breathing more difficult [4].

Did you know that asthma affects 1 in 13 Americans [5]? It can develop at any age, though it typically starts during early childhood. 

Graphic icon of dandelion.Asthma can develop from external factors, too, including smoke and chemicals, pollen, mold, dust, pet hair, or other airborne allergens [6]. 

Without a proactive approach to treating your asthma symptoms, your condition may worsen overtime and cause irreversible damage to your lungs and airways. 

Can Asthma Turn into COPD?

In a previous article, we discussed the differences and similarities between asthma and bronchiectasis—two chronic lung conditions that constrict a person’s airways, making breathing more difficult. 

COPD and asthma have a similar relationship. Though they are two completely different lung diseases that require two different diagnoses, they share many of the same symptoms. What’s more, as asthma and bronchiectasis can co-exist together, COPD and asthma can too.

So, the real question isn’t can asthma turn into COPD, but rather, can asthma and COPD overlap? The answer is yes. And this comorbid condition is referred to as Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS) [7]. 

Why Can COPD and Asthma Co-Exist Together?

An important distinction to make is that COPD doesn’t necessarily cause asthma, nor does asthma cause someone to develop COPD. In fact, a person can live with either lung disease and never experience symptoms of the other.  

However, when your condition is left untreated, or you’re experiencing a worsening of symptoms, you risk damaging your lungs, which could lead to other serious lung issues.

Graphic icon of lungs.As mentioned earlier, asthma can cause mucus buildup in the lungs, creating the onset of a respiratory infection. With each cycle of infection, the lungs become more damaged, putting the person at greater risk of developing bronchiectasis.

In this scenario, asthma doesn’t directly cause bronchiectasis. The repeated damage to your lungs, caused by infection, does. The same is true for asthma and COPD and vise versa:

“Asthma does not necessarily lead to COPD, but a person whose lungs have been damaged by poorly controlled asthma and continued exposure to irritants such as tobacco smoke is at increased risk of developing COPD [8].”

One condition doesn’t replace the other, either. This is why ACOS is not considered a separate disease [9]. Instead, it refers to someone who is living with a mix of asthma and COPD symptoms. This, of course, requires a different diagnosis and treatment plan than if you were living with only one of these conditions.

Finding Relief from Constricted Airways

Our goal is to help educate and empower you to take an active role in your lung management and treatment, whether you’re living with asthma, COPD, or bronchiectasis.

Subscribe to our blog to stay connected to our community and find helpful articles, industry news, and resources for you and loved ones to read and share with your clinician. 

To learn more and help spread awareness about asthma and allergies, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America‘s website.


Resources

[1] American Lung Association. “What Is Asthma?” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/learn-about-asthma/what-is-asthma

[2] Cleveland Clinic. “Asthma.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6424-asthma

[3] Medical News Today. “Types, causes, treatment, and diagnosis of asthma.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323523

[4] Cleveland Clinic. “Asthma.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6424-asthma

[5] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “What Is Asthma?” Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma

[6] Medical News Today. “Types, causes, treatment, and diagnosis of asthma.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323523

[7] American Lung Association. “Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS). “Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/diagnosing-treating-asthma/asthma-copd-overlap-syndrome

[8] Allergy and Asthma Network. “When Asthma Meets COPD.” Retrieved from https://allergyasthmanetwork.org/news/when-asthma-meets-copd/

[9] American Lung Association. “Asthma-COPD Overlap Syndrome (ACOS). “Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/diagnosing-treating-asthma/asthma-copd-overlap-syndrome

Keep Reading

How Did I Get Bronchiectasis?

Next Up

New Study Shows HFCWO Therapy Reduces Healthcare Resource Utilization