Young asthmatics who smoke show early signs of COPD

Warning message

This news item is more than a year old. Links, graphics, content, medical information, and statistics may be out of date. We invite you to search, visit our homepage, or contact us to find more current information on the topic you're looking for.

Young asthmatics who smoke show early signs of COPD

Saskatoon, March 20, 2006--For many people with asthma, cigarette smoke is a trigger for an episode of difficult breathing which in the past was called an asthma attack. Therefore, it is surprising that the rate of smoking among people with asthma is almost the same as the rest of the population. In addition to the numerous usual risks associated with cigarette smoke seen in smokers without asthma, smokers with asthma have increased asthma-related problems. Now new research shows they are in for even more problems.

A Quebec study published recently in the medical journal Chest found that smokers with asthma show early signs of COPD at the relatively young age of 30 with only 14 pack-years of smoking. This research was conducted by a team from LavalUniversity headed by Dr. Louis-Philippe Boulet. They examined the airways in the lungs of both smokers and non-smokers with asthma using high resolution CT scans. They found early signs of COPD in the smokers with asthma but not in the nonsmokers.

Mild emphysematous changes were found in approximately one of five smokers with asthma, despite a relatively moderate smoking exposure, suggesting an increased susceptibility to cigarette smoke in these patients, said Dr. Boulet.

COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is the umbrella term for a number of chronic lung disorders that obstruct the airways. The most common form of COPD is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

The study suggests that smoking asthma patients can therefore be considered as a specific patient group, intermediate between nonsmoking asthma patients and COPD patients, with a mixture of the features of both diseases.

It is very disturbing to see people who already have breathing problems due to asthma damage their lungs further by smoking, said Dr. Boulet. There is a lot we can do to help people control their asthma, but COPD is another matter. Our treatment options are limited and not nearly as effective.

Brian Graham, Lung Association Vice-President responsible for Asthma agrees. The Lung Association has excellent materials and resources to educate people about managing their asthma. Most people can keep their asthma under good control, but they have to comply with the management plan, said Graham. The single most important step in preventing and treating all types of lung disease is Don't smoke!

COPD is another high priority area for The Lung Association. Last year, COPD killed more Canadian women than breast cancer. COPD is the fastest growing chronic disease in Canada, said Vicki Bryanton, Lung Association Vice-President responsible for COPD. COPD used to be mainly a disease of men over 65, but now we're seeing a jump in women starting at age 50. If people with asthma as young as age 30 have early signs of COPD, that's really bad news.

Why do young people with asthma smoke? It's hard to say for sure, replied Graham. We know that asthma occurs more frequently in children exposed to second hand smoke in the home. We also know that children whose parents smoke are more likely to become smokers themselves, so that may be part of the explanation.

This is a very important message for anyone with asthma who smokes, added Bryanton. If you were waiting for stronger motivation to quit smoking, here it is and it's spelled C-O-P-D.

The Lung Association has been working to improve lung health since 1900. As a non-profit, non-governmental organization, we rely on donations from the public to fund our activities.  You will find us on the front lines working with our partners in health care to provide optimal treatment of lung diseases such as COPD, asthma, sleep apnea, lung cancer, and pneumonia and prevention of lung disease through reduction of tobacco use and clean air initiatives.  Please visit our web site at for a comprehensive selection of educational materials and resources.

Reference article:

Smoking and Asthma: Clinical and Radiologic Features, Lung Function, and Airway Inflammation. LP Boulet, C Lemiere, F Archambault, G Carrier, MC Descary, and F Deschesnes, CHEST 2006; 129:661“668

For more information, please contact:

Jan Haffner, Vice President Health Initiatives
(306) 343-9511

Dr. Louis-Philippe Boulet
(418)  656-4747





AddThis Social Sharing Icon

Page Last Updated: 21/02/2017