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Difference Between COPD and Wheezing

Wheezing is one of the symptoms presented during COPD exacerbation. Therefore knowing the signs and symptoms of an exacerbation will enable you to seek medical treatment in a timely manner and help reduce number of hospitalizations. 

 

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic оbstructive pulmonary disease) is a disease of the lungs, characterized by partly or completely irreversible limitation of the airflow on the lungs. It occurs due to inflammation of the pulmonary parenchyma and is caused by the inhalation of particles and gases.

COPD includes pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

The bronchitis is chronic when the patient has had a productive cough during two consecutive years for at least 3 months each year. In chronic bronchitis, the air flow is restricted, due to a narrowing of the bronchial lumen. The narrowing is a result of a restructuring of the airways’ walls.

Pulmonary emphysema is a chronic progressive disease, in which the tissues supporting the function of the lungs are destroyed. The alveoli become expanded and incapable of carrying out normal gas exchange.

The risk factors causing COPD are:

  • Smoking;
  • Air pollution;
  • Frequent respiratory infections;
  • Prolonged and intensive exposure to harmful substances;
  • Hereditary deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin;
  • Age;
  • Gender, etc.

Most of the COPD patients are men, smokers, and over 40 years old.

COPD proceeds with phases of improvement and exacerbation of the condition of the patient.

The most common symptoms of COPD are sputum, shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, pain and tightness in the chest, reduced physical capacity. Symptoms are present for a long time and tend to gradually worsen. With the progressing of the disease appear cyanosis, confusion, headache, insomnia, etc.

Diagnosis is made based on the clinical picture, examination, and spirometry.

The disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be controlled to a certain extent. The cessation of smoking is a key point in the treatment.

The cough is a protective mechanism and it is not recommended to be suppressed. Upon exacerbation of the patient’s condition medications are prescribed, including bronchodilators, secretagogues, anti-asthma drugs, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. In the case of emphysema, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation may be necessary.

 

What is Wheezing?

Wheezing is a rough, high-pitched whistling sound, detected by listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. It occurs as a result of the accumulation of fluid or lack of aeration of the lungs. There are two types of wheezing – wet and dry.

Wet wheezing occurs when the air flow passes through secretion in the bronchi. This creates bubbles of varying size. The sound of the crackling of the bubbles is heard as wet wheezing. Dry wheezing occurs when the air is swirled in narrowed areas of the respiratory tract.

Wheezing can occur in:

  • Respiratory system diseases – pulmonary edema, chronic bronchitis, asthma, lung abscess, pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, acute bronchitis, interstitial lung disease, respiratory distress syndrome, etc.;
  • Diseases of the circulatory system – congestive heart failure;
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases – severe sepsis, toxocariasis, tuberculosis;
  • External causes – injuries, poisoning, etc.;
  • Congenital abnormalities, deformations, and chromosomal aberrations;
  • Diseases of the digestive system – gastroesophageal reflux, etc.

The risk factors for wheezing include:

  • Hereditary factors;
  • Allergies;
  • Lung cancer;
  • Increased exposure to infections;
  • Current and past smoking.

Diagnosis of wheezing begins with a clinical picture and examination. Pulse oximetry may be performed. Various other studies, such as X-ray, blood tests, ECG, may also be involved in the diagnosis.

Treatment depends on the underlying disease. It includes:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications to control the inflammation;
  • Quick-acting medications (bronchodilators) to open the airways.

If the wheezing is related to a long-term illness, both anti-inflammatory and quick-acting medications can be prescribed.

 

Difference Between COPD and Wheezing

Definition

COPD: COPD is a disease of the lungs, characterized by partly or completely irreversible limitation of the airflow on the lungs.

Wheezing: Wheezing is a rough, high-pitched whistling sound, detected by listening to the lungs with a stethoscope.

Types

COPD: COPD includes pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Wheezing: Wheezing can be wet or dry.

Cause

COPD: COPD occurs due to inflammation of the pulmonary parenchyma and is caused by the inhalation of particles and gases.

Wheezing: Wet wheezing occurs when the air flow passes through secretion in the bronchi. Dry wheezing occurs when the air is swirled in narrowed areas of the respiratory tract.

Risk factors

COPD: The risk factors causing COPD are smoking, air pollution, frequent respiratory infections, prolonged and intensive exposure to harmful substances, hereditary deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin, age, gender, etc.

Wheezing: The risk factors causing wheezing include hereditary factors, allergies, lung cancer, increased exposure to infections, current and past smoking.

Symptoms

COPD: The symptoms of COPD are sputum, shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, pain and tightness in the chest, reduced physical capacity. With the progressing of the disease appear cyanosis, confusion, headache, insomnia, etc.

Wheezing: Wheezing is a rough, high-pitched whistling sound in the lungs.

Diagnosis

COPD: Diagnosis of COPD is made based on the clinical picture, examination, and spirometry.

Wheezing: Wheezing can be heard via stethoscope.

Treatment

COPD: The medications, prescribed to patients with COPD include bronchodilators, secretagogues, anti-asthma drugs, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. In the case of emphysema, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation may be necessary.

Wheezing: The treatment depends on the underlying disease and includes anti-inflammatory medications and bronchodilators.

COPD vs.  Wheezing : Comparison Chart

 

Summary of COPD vs.  Wheezing:

  • COPD is a disease of the lungs, characterized by partly or completely irreversible limitation of the airflow on the lungs.
  • Wheezing is a rough, high-pitched whistling sound, detected by listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. It is one of the symptoms observed during COPD and Asthma exacerbation.
  • COPD includes pulmonary emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Wheezing can be wet or dry.
  • COPD occurs due to inflammation of the pulmonary parenchyma and is caused by the inhalation of particles and gases. Wet wheezing occurs when the air flow passes through secretion in the bronchi. Dry wheezing occurs when the air is swirled in narrowed areas of the respiratory tract.
  • The risk factors causing COPD are smoking, air pollution, frequent respiratory infections, prolonged and intensive exposure to harmful substances, hereditary deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin, age, gender, etc. The risk factors causing wheezing include hereditary factors, allergies, lung cancer, increased exposure to infections, current and past smoking.
  • The symptoms of COPD are sputum, shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, pain and tightness in the chest, reduced physical capacity. With the progressing of the disease appear cyanosis, confusion, headache, insomnia, etc. Wheezing is a rough, high-pitched whistling sound in the lungs.
  • Diagnosis of COPD is made based on the clinical picture, examination, and spirometry. Wheezing can be heard via stethoscope.
  • The medications, prescribed to patients with COPD include bronchodilators, secretagogues, anti-asthma drugs, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. In the case of emphysema, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation may be necessary. The treatment if wheezing depends on the underlying disease and includes anti-inflammatory medications and bronchodilators.

 

Dr. Mariam Bozhilova Forest Research Institute, BAS

Environmental Expert with PhD in Botany at Forest Research Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Mariam has a Master’s degree in Ecology and a PhD in Botany.
Currently, she works in the Forest Research Institute, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Mariam has more than 10 years of professional experience in scientific research and environmental consultancy. She has worked within non-profit, profit, and academic environment, and consulted business clients and competent authorities.
Her main professional interests are in the area of:
Scientific research;
Web content writing;
Environmental consultancy.
Dr. Mariam Bozhilova Forest Research Institute, BAS

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References :


[0]Haas, F., S. Haas, R. Human. The Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema Handbook. 1st Edition. New York, Toronto: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2000. Print.

[1]Warrell, D., T. Cox, J. Firth. Oxford Textbook of Medicine, Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010. Print.

[2]Yankova, Z. New Guide to Pulmonary Diseases and Tuberculosis. Sofia: Medical University Press. 2012. Print.

[3]Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Symptoms_of_COPD.svg

[4]Image credit: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/1456147

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