The Difference between COPD and Asbestosis

The Difference between COPD and Asbestosis


Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a disease obstructing airflow from the lungs. It is caused by irritating gases and particulate matter, which is usually cigarette smoke. The two biggest contributors to COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is caused by inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. The bronchial tubes end up becoming swollen, more mucus is made by the lungs, and the airways are then blocked. Emphysema is caused by the alveoli being destroyed after being exposed to cigarette smoke and other particulate matter. The small airways then collapse, limiting airflow out of the lungs.

COPD Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Having excess mucus in the lungs in the morning
  • A chronic cough that produces clear, white, yellow, or greenish mucus.
  • Cyanosis (blueness of the lips or fingernail beds)
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Lack of energy
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Swelling in ankles, feet, and legs
  • Exacerbations: varied times when symptoms become worse than usual for at least several days


Asbestosis shares some of the symptoms of COPD, but is a separate disease with a separate cause. Asbestosis is a type of fibrosis, where lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. Once the lung tissue is scarred, it stiffens and thickens making it hard for the lungs to move and work properly. The only cause of asbestosis is asbestos, and usually occurs many years after someone has worked with the substance. High levels of the carcinogen go into a person’s lungs, and after the body tries to remove it and fails, scar tissue is created in the lungs.

Asbestosis Symptoms

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss
  • Clubbing (tips of fingers and toes become wider and rounder than usual)
  • Chest tightness and pain



Mayo Clinic Staff, “Asbestosis” Mayo Clinic (March 7, 2018). [Link]

Mayo Clinic Staff, “COPD” Mayo Clinic (August 11, 2017). [Link]

Mayo Clinic Staff, “Pulmonary Fibrosis” Mayo Clinic (March 6, 2018). [Link]


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