COPD refers to a group of diseases that affect the lungs, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD is characterized by permanent lung damage and irreversible airflow limitation. With asthma, on the other hand, the airways become inflamed, causing airflow obstruction and difficulty breathing, but the damage to the lungs is not thought to be permanent. Plus, the symptoms of asthma can usually be relieved spontaneously or with medication.
Asthmatics may have reason to worry about future lung diseases. According to a 20-year study, it was found that adults with asthma may have an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. During the research it was observed that active asthmatics are 12-times more likely to develop COPD later in life than non-asthmatics. However, researchers did find a significant difference between active and inactive asthmatics -- those who were previously diagnosed with asthma but did not experience symptoms. Thus researchers say this suggests that an increased risk is only associated with those who currently have asthma.
According to researchers smoking has been described as the main risk factor for the development of COPD. However, less than 20 percent of cigarette smokers acquire COPD, suggesting that other factors convey significant additional risk.Thus minimizing asthmatics' exposure to risk factors such as tobacco smoke and air pollution may delay disease progression to COPD. Some specialists also suggest that effective anti-inflammatory therapy at the onset of asthma may decrease the likelihood of developing COPD.