Shortness of breath is the primary symptom of both asthma and COPD, short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Both symptoms stem from a similar inflammation of the lungs' air sacs known as alveoli. However, the two ailments are very different medical conditions, says Dr. Mark Millard, medical director at the Martha Foster Lung Care Center at Baylor University in Dallas.
Here's a synopsis of the major differences outlined by Millard:
Causes: Allergens like cats, dust or pollen trigger symptoms in two-thirds of people with asthma, while smoking is a factor in up to 90 percent of COPD cases.
Age: Though each ailment affects around 20-25 million people, the onset of asthma typically occurs in childhood, while COPD is rarely diagnosed before the age of 40.
Prevention: Doctors haven't figured out how to prevent asthma in children or adults, but it's easy to avert COPD. Keep your lungs healthy by exercising regularly and not smoking.