Difference between Asthma and Emphysema

Key difference: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and unfortunately in today’s world it is quite common. Asthma is known for causing recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing.  Emphysema is a long-term lung disease that is included in a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Emphysema is most often caused by tobacco smoking and long-term exposure to air pollution. The other form of COPD is chronic bronchitis, which can also be caused by smoking.

 

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and unfortunately in today’s world it is quite common. Asthma is known for causing recurring periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing.  The coughing characteristically is worse at night or early morning. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood, due to which a number of children have to live with the disease.

 

The airways are tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs. Asthma causes these airways to inflame, and hence swollen and sensitive. Due to this, the airways tend to strongly react to irritants and outside substances. As the airways react, the muscles around them tighten. This causes the airways to become narrow and carry less air to the lungs that they normally would. Another way that the airways can become narrow is when the cells in the airway produce more mucus than necessary. The mucus coats the inside of the airway, thus restricting space.

 

Whenever, the airways are restricted, it induces the symptoms of asthma. At times, the symptoms are quite mild and may go away on their own or after minimal treatment with asthma medicine. However, at other times, the symptoms may not subside and may continue to get worse. These instances are referred to as asthma attacks. Asthma attacks are also called flareups or exacerbations. These may require proper medical attention.

 

There is currently no cure for asthma; however, there are numerous treatments available that can help control the impact of asthma. Hence, it is quite possible to live an average life with asthma, with minimal interference. There various medicines that can help counter the effects of asthma, both long term and short term. There are also various lifestyle choices one can make to reduce the impact of asthma.

 

In 2011, there were approximately 235–300 million people globally that had been diagnosed with asthma. In the same year, asthma was also responsible for 250,000 deaths.

 

Emphysema is a long-term lung disease that is included in a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Emphysema is most often caused by tobacco smoking and long-term exposure to air pollution. The other form of COPD is chronic bronchitis, which can also be caused by smoking.

 

In emphysema, the tissues necessary to support the shape and function of the lungs are destroyed. In emphysema, the lung tissue around smaller sacs, called alveoli are practically destroyed. This makes the air sacs unable to hold shape after the air is exhaled.

 

Like asthma, there is currently no cure for emphysema; however, there are numerous treatments available that can help control the impact of the disease.

 

A detailed comparison between asthma and emphysema:

 

 

Asthma

Emphysema

Description

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and unfortunately in today’s world it is quite common. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood, due to which a number of children have to live with the disease.

Emphysema is a long-term lung disease that is included in a group of diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. In emphysema, the tissues necessary to support the shape and function of the lungs are destroyed.

Causes

The exact cause of asthma is unknown. Genetic and environmental factors, such as an inherited tendency to develop allergies, called atopy, asthmatic parents, childhood respiratory infections and/or contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing may impact cause of asthma.

Smoking is the most cause of emphysema. Pollution and second-hand smoke may also play a part in causing emphysema. The other major known cause of emphysema is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. However, this is a minor cause of emphysema, compared to smoking.

Risk

Young children who often wheeze and have respiratory infections, allergies, eczema of parents with asthma are at highest risk of developing asthma. Some people who often come in contact with certain chemical irritants or industrial dusts in the workplace are also at risk.

Emphysema is most likely to develop in cigarette smokers, but cigar and pipe smokers also are susceptible. Also people who are constantly exposed to secondhand smoke, to indoor and outdoor pollution, and to occupation related exposure to fumes or dust may also be at risk for developing emphysema.

Symptoms

  • Coughing - often worse at night or early in the morning
  • Wheezing, whistling or squeaky sound while breathing.
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • The main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. Emphysema eventually causes shortness of breath even while at rest.
  • Lips or fingernails turning blue or gray.
  • Not mentally alert
  • Fast heartbeat

Diagnosis

Symptoms are irregular. The best way to diagnose asthma is a lung function test.

Symptoms may not manifest for years. In order to diagnose emphysema, a variety of imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans, lab tests and lung function tests may be utilized.

Treatment

While there is no cure for asthma, it is possible to control the disease and limit its effects. It is possible to live a normal lifestyle with asthma.

There is no cure for emphysema. However, treatments may relieve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Statistics

In 2011, 235–300 million people globally have been diagnosed with asthma, and it caused 250,000 deaths.

Approximately, more than 10 million people in the U.S. likely have emphysema or another form of COPD. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. As per the NHS, around 900,000 people in the UK have been diagnosed with COPD and about two million people have the condition but have not been diagnosed.

 

Image Courtesy: placeboeffect.com

Image Courtesy: theconversation.com

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