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Chronic Asthma



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Chronic Asthma


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Not all people with COPD have asthma, but many do have an asthmatic component to either emphysema or chronic bronchitis, or even a mix of all three, while most asthma patients do not have COPD. 

There remains the debate among medical professionals whether chronic asthma belongs under the umbrella term COPD because, unlike emphysema and chronic bronchitis, asthma can be reversed and responds well to various medications.

The fact remains, however, that many with already impaired lung function are highly susceptible to asthma. 

The word asthma originates from an ancient Greek word meaning panting. It is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs. This inflammation causes the airways to narrow or constrict, which produces wheezing and breathlessness, sometimes to the point where the sufferer gasps for air.

When a healthy person inhales, the air passes into the lungs through progressively smaller airways (bronchioles). The lungs contain millions of bronchioles, all leading to air sacs (alveoli), where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.  The airways in the lungs respond by constricting when exposed to allergens or irritants, but here is the major difference between people with and without asthma.

When a healthy person breathes in and out deeply, the airways relax and open in order to rid the lungs of the irritant. When asthmatics try to take deep breaths, their airways do not relax, but instead narrow and the person pants for breath. These smooth muscles in the airways of people with asthma may have a defect, perhaps a deficiency in a critical chemical that prevents the muscles from relaxing. 

This obstruction of the airflow either stops spontaneously or responds to a wide range of medical treatments. Continuous inflammation makes asthmatics hyper-responsive to such stimuli as cold air, exercise, dust, pollutants in the air, stress or anxiety

Research shows asthma has two primary stages: hyper-reactive response and the inflammatory response. In the hyper-reactive condition, the smooth muscles in the airways constrict and narrow excessively in response to inhaled noxious irritants.

The inflammatory stage of asthma is when the immune system responds to allergens or other environmental triggers by producing white blood cells and other immune factors in the airways. These inflammatory factors cause the airways to swell and to fill with fluid, producing thick sticky mucus.

In an asthma attack, the muscle tissue in the walls of the constricted bronchi go into spasms, making it much harder to breath.

Occupationally-related asthma is now the most frequent occupational respiratory disease diagnosis among patients visiting occupational medical clinics. Recent evidence shows that as many as 26% of adult asthma cases may be attributable to the workplace.


Last modified: January 25, 2011

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