Allergies Mistaken for COPD

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Respiratory disease impairs the ability of your lungs to derive the necessary amount of oxygen from the air you breathe. Allergies, asthma, chronic bronchitis and COPD — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — have different origins, but all of them limit your lung function either temporarily or permanently. If you’ve received a diagnosis of one type of pulmonary disorder and feel it could have a different cause, seek another opinion.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease typically occurs in middle age or later. It’s associated strongly with smoking or long-term exposure to other particulate matter that collects in the lungs such as smog or dust. Healthy lung tissue contains tiny air sacs called alveoli that maximize your lungs’ surface area for oxygen exchange. If you have COPD, the walls between those alveoli become damaged, leaving you with larger but fewer alveoli and reduced gas exchange surfaces. The lung tissue itself becomes less elastic, limiting your breathing. You may also produce more mucus in your lungs, further curtailing your respiration. COPD is a progressive illness for which there is no cure.


Allergies arise from your immune system’s reaction to a perceived threat. Your body produces immunoglobulin E, an antibody that triggers a cascade of allergic symptoms in response to a foreign substance. One of these symptoms is overstimulation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs, leading to an asthma attack. If you have severe allergies, you may carry an epinephrine injector to counteract this allergic cascade. Milder allergies to dust mites or other common irritants can also lead to lung congestion due to overproduction of mucus that makes it difficult to breathe.

Similar Symptoms, Different Causes

Both COPD and allergic reactions lead to limited lung function. You’re more likely to notice that limited function when you climb stairs, walk up an incline or exercise vigorously. Having difficulty catching your breath, coughing and being unable to draw a deep breath are hallmarks of both conditions. However, allergies occur in response to a specific trigger and often happen in acute episodes. By definition, COPD is a chronic condition; it remains with you regardless of external triggers. COPD is a permanent change to your lung tissue, not a temporary inflammatory response.

Differentiating Between COPD and Allergies

Although shortness of breath and coughing are symptoms of both COPD and allergies, the two pulmonary disorders’ different origins allow a doctor to differentiate between them. Allergy testing can eliminate allergies as the cause of decreased lung function. A thorough patient history also helps your doctor tell allergies from COPD. Measuring your breathing over successive visits can indicate whether your restricted breathing arises from allergic asthma or COPD. A thorough medical examination will give your doctor a better idea which condition you’re facing.

Via : livestrong

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