What’s the difference between asthma, COPD?

ORLANDO, Fla. – Coughing, shortness of breath, anxiety and wheezing could signal several diseases.

In particular, they are symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and asthma.

The symptoms might seem identical, but how do you tell which one you have?

One difference is that asthma can start at any age, but COPD does not occur in people until they're over the age of 40.

COPD: Harmonicas for better health?

Even if you've never had asthma growing up, you can get it later in life.

"The fact is that we don't know why some people have it as adults. We don't know what factors of the environment that interact with this genetic predisposition," said Dr. Mark Millard, a pulmonologist at the Baylor University Medical Center.

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 an inhaler it can go back to normal. In COPD patients, breathing never gets better.

Asthma and the gender connection

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

It is possible to have COPD and asthma at the same time, which is called asthma-COPD overlap syndrome, or ACOS.

Those with severe asthma are 32 percent more likely to develop COPD later in life.

There are nearly 24 million adults living with COPD while 25 million people are affected by asthma.