Health Watch: Knowing the difference between asthma and COPD

FRESNO, Calif. -- Nearly 24 million adults live with COPD, while 25 million people are affected by asthma.

The symptoms might seem identical. How do you tell which one you have?

One difference is that asthma can start at any age, but COPD doesn't usually occur before the age of 40. So even if you've never had asthma growing up, it's still a possibility later on.

"The fact is that we don't know why some people have it as adults," says Mark Millard, a Pulmonologist. "We don't know what factors of the environment that interact with this genetic predisposition."

Also, COPD is mainly triggered by cigarette smoke, first or second hand. But asthma has many triggers such as mold, dust, pollen or pet dander.

Your breathing changes in asthma but with the help of your inhaler, it can go back to normal. In COPD patients, it never gets better.

"There's no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled easily," says Mary Hart, a registered respiratory therapist. "And you don't have the deterioration of the lungs like you do with COPD. COPD, like I said, it's progressive and you have that deterioration of lung function over time.