What’s the Link Between Childhood Asthma and COPD?

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have a lot in common. They both happen because of swelling in your lungs that makes it harder to breathe. Asthma is one of the most widespread long-term illnesses in kids and affects about 1 in 10 children. COPD is a top cause of disability and death in adults.

Some people have both asthma and COPD. Researchers now know that childhood asthma greatly raises your chances for COPD later.

Asthma-COPD Link

Many kids outgrow their asthma. But some children with the condition have lungs that don’t mature normally or work as well compared to people who’ve never had asthma. Experts think that asthma either causes COPD or is one of the factors that make COPD more likely in adulthood.

That’s especially true for kids who have “persistent childhood asthma.” Those children have trouble breathing almost every day. One study found that 11% of kids who had this kind of severe asthma had COPD as young adults.

What’s more, 3 out of 4 children with persistent asthma showed signs of lowered lung capacity or growth by their early 20s. That could put them on a path to get COPD later. Boys are much more likely than girls to have problems with their lungs.

What It Means for You

If you had severe asthma as a kid or have a child who does, doctors recommend a spirometry test every year. It checks how much air you can breathe in and out, and how fast you can exhale air from your lungs. The test may catch signs of a lung problem or early symptoms of COPD so you can get treated. COPD can’t be cured, but timely care can help keep your lungs working well for as long as possible.

More research is needed to see if and which kind of treatment may help prevent childhood asthma from turning into COPD.

What You Can Do

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of COPD. So quit if you smoke, and stay away from secondhand smoke. If you know someone who smokes, ask them to do it outside of your home.

Also, learn the symptoms of COPD. If you notice any signs in yourself or your child, tell your doctor right away.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 21, 2020



Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Childhood Asthma Linked to COPD.”

Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “Childhood asthma is a risk factor for the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

New England Journal of Medicine: “Patterns of Growth and Decline in Lung Function in Persistent Childhood Asthma.”

American Lung Association: “The Link between Asthma & COPD.”

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