Although they are different diseases, there are some similarities in how we treat asthma and COPD in the ER. COPD is often a disease of older patients. Most frequently, it is caused by cigarette smoke or exposure to harmful agents that damage their lungs. Both diseases are caused by a difficulty of the small airways to open to let air out. So the wheezing that you hear when you breathe is usually because the air can't get out of the lungs as fast as it should. This is also the O in COPD. The flow of air leaving the lungs is partially blocked when breathing out. In asthma, the same thing occurs when inflammation inhibits the opening of the airways. The most common cause of COPD is smoking, and it is typically not reversible. A condition that is similar to COPD is emphysema, which also occurs in smokers. Even though emphysema makes it harder to breathe, this is not the cause of wheezing. The similarities between COPD and asthma are why the same medicines generally work for both diseases. Usually you are given inhaled medications that open up the airway, such as albuterol or ipratropium, as well as an anti-inflammatory steroid.
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