Exploring the Difference Between Asthma and COPD | Sunnyvale Elder Care

Palo Alto Elder Care

Palo Alto Elder Care Unstoppable coughing. Shortness of breath. Wheezing. Sounds like an asthma attack, right? Before reaching for that inhaler or those OTC cough drops, though, it might be better to find out if another culprit – COPD – could be a factor. With a full 12 million people in the U.S. currently living with COPD (and just as many who probably have the disease but haven’t been diagnosed), it’s crucial for seniors with COPD-like symptoms to determine the cause behind the cough.

Take a look at some of the major differences between these two conditions:


  • Environmental factors such as cigarette smoke, dust, and pet hair can trigger asthmatic symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Usually displays in patients in childhood, often by age 5.
  • Thought to be caused by genetics.


  • Environmental triggers can exacerbate symptoms like coughing and difficulty breathing, but these symptoms are often present in a milder form regardless of air quality.
  • Typically diagnosed after age 40.
  • Caused mainly by cigarette smoking (in up to 90% of all patients), or by secondhand exposure to air pollutants.

While medications available for both COPD and asthma are often similar – bronchodilators or inhaled steroids – their treatment plans usually differ. Those with asthma are urged to stay away from known triggers, such as limiting outside time when the pollen count is high and avoiding secondhand smoke. Those with COPD require a more intense approach, which may include prescribed oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation to maximize breathing capacity, and, most importantly, making sure they’re not smoking.

Of course, it’s important to visit the physician if you’re concerned that your senior loved one is suffering with any type of lung condition.

There’s currently no cure for either asthma or COPD; however, both conditions can be better managed when properly diagnosed and treated. Although COPD does cause permanent, irreversible damage to the lungs, with correct treatment, the progression of the disease can be slowed down, its symptoms made more manageable, and quality of life maximized.

Visiting Angels’ Sunnyvale elder care team is also available to provide assistance at home to help make a chronic condition easier to manage. Some of the many ways we can help include:

  • Light housework, to ensure as much dust as possible is removed from the home
  • Transportation and accompaniment to medical appointments and to pick up prescriptions
  • Encouragement and participation in physician-approved exercise programs
  • Planning and preparation of nutritious, delicious meals
  • Friendly, compassionate companionship
  • And much more

To help your senior loved one remain safe and healthy at home, contact Visiting Angels in Sunnyvale at (408) 735-0977 or in Fremont at 510-284-0000 or fill out our online contact form to learn more about elder care in the surrounding area.