Tightness in the chest, wheezing and persistent cough can be signs of either asthma or COPD, which are both chronic pulmonary diseases. What exactly causes asthma or COPD, what happens in your lungs with these diseases and how are they treated? Here are answers to common questions.
What is asthma?
When you have shortness of breath or tightness in your chest, experience wheezing or suffer from prolonged coughing, you might have asthma.
With asthma, the airways in your lungs are sensitive, inflamed and become irritated in certain situations. Irritated airways can produce more mucus and become narrow, which makes it difficult to breathe.
Asthma symptoms can get worse when something irritates the airways. This is called an asthma attack, and the things that make your symptoms worse are commonly called asthma triggers.
What causes asthma?
Asthma can affect people at any age and can change over time. Asthma that starts in childhood can later get better or disappear, but some children have problems as adults as well.
There are several risk factors for asthma. These include for instance allergies, air pollution and family history. Ultimately, you can also develop asthma without exposure to any risk factors but this is less likely.
If you have asthma, it’s very important to get to know your asthma triggers. This way you can try to avoid or manage them. Common asthma triggers include colds and other respiratory infections, house-dust mites, allergies to furry pets, cigarette smoke, exercise, stress, excitement or anger, and poor air quality or pollen.
What is the treatment for asthma?
There is currently no cure for asthma, but there are medicines available to help control the symptoms. When your asthma is under control it doesn’t interfere with your normal daily life.
Taking your asthma medicine as advised is one of the most important things in asthma treatment. Avoiding the asthma triggers that make your symptoms worse is another one.
You should always discuss your treatment with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist, and make sure you understand the instructions. If asthma symptoms bug you often, you should talk to your doctor or nurse to have your symptoms reviewed and medication adjusted.
Asthma inhalers – what is a preventer or a reliever?
Asthma is primarily treated with inhaled medicines: preventers and relievers.
A preventer controls the swelling and inflammation in your airways which helps to control the symptoms and reduces the risk of severe asthma attacks. The preventer must be taken regularly, whether or not you are feeling wheezy or short of breath.
A reliever, on the other hand, is a short or long-acting bronchodilator which relaxes tight bronchial muscles, opens the airways and makes it easier to breathe. Relievers do not treat the underline cause of asthma, inflammation in the airways. Therefore, preventers are needed as the base medication and relievers are used if needed.
It is important that you know how to use your inhaler properly. A lot of people don't!
What is COPD?
Shortness of breath, wheezing and persistent coughing can also be symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD. Another symptom of COPD is increased mucus production.
People with COPD commonly have chronic bronchitis, which involves a long-term cough with mucus, or emphysema that involves destruction of the lungs over time. There can also be increased connective tissue around the small airways, which causes airway obstruction. Most people with COPD have a combination of these three conditions. These conditions cause breathing difficulties among other things and the obstruction of the airways is not reversible like in asthma.
People with COPD also have many respiratory infections, and during these, their condition is usually worse.
What causes COPD?
Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, though not all people with COPD have smoked, and not all smokers develop COPD.
Exposure to gases or fumes in the workplace or heavy amounts of second hand smoke and pollution are also risk factors for COPD, as is frequent use of cooking fire without proper ventilation.
The symptoms for COPD typically develop slowly and people don’t always realize they have a disease. If you have chest symptoms, it’s important to tell your physician about them in order to get a proper diagnosis.
What is the treatment for COPD?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for COPD. However, there are many things you can do to cope with your symptoms and help your everyday life.
It is very important to stop smoking if you have COPD, as this is the best way to slow down lung damage. Healthy diet and exercise will also help you manage your symptoms and breathe easier.
COPD is also treated with inhalers. Medication for COPD includes different kinds of bronchodilators that are usually inhaled. There are short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators, and you might also need anti-inflammatory medication for lower lung function of frequent worsening of your condition.
By Anne Ventelä
Orion is a globally operating Finnish pharmaceutical company - a builder of well-being for more than 100 years. Orion develops, manufactures and markets human and veterinary pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Respiratory diseases are one of Orion’s core therapy areas. Easyhaler® is a dry-powder inhaler developed in-house. The Easyhaler® product family includes today six commonly used treatment options for asthma and COPD patients. Orion's net sales in 2018 amounted to EUR 977 million and the company had about 3,200 employees. Orion's A and B shares are listed on Nasdaq Helsinki.
As a forward-looking pharmaceutical company, Orion continues to invest in research and development of treatment options for people with asthma and COPD while also developing the design and usability of the inhaler. The focus is on safety and quality in each step of the product life cycle while taking care of the environment. Sustainability is entwined in the whole process from R&D through manufacturing. It is also required of Orion’s providers. Orion is committed to keeping the best possible control of the environmental impacts of their own factories by reducing energy consumption and the impact of their wastewaters, among others, and is making good progress in that regard. Orion works to ensure that suppliers have procedures in place to control and reduce their own environmental impacts as well. All aspects of sustainability - social, economic and environmental - are carefully considered in the whole product life cycle, including patient use and the disposal of old inhalers.