The term refers to a family of lung diseases that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, among other lung diseases.
When we breathe, the air travels through our airways and into our lungs, where tubes called bronchioles carry that air into the bloodstream through blood vessels called capillaries. Our lungs then exhale carbon dioxide, which is a waste product of metabolism.
While treatments are available to help reduce symptoms, it’s important to understand what causes COPD in order to prevent it. Here are the leading causes of COPD.
Top Three Causes of COPD
1.) The Number One Cause of COPD: Cigarette Smoking
While tobacco smoke is the leading cause of COPD, it is also the one cause that can be controlled. Smoking may gradually degrade the health of the lungs, leading to the breathing symptoms associated with COPD. Cigarette smoke contains dangerous toxins that can cause further damage to the lungs, making COPD symptoms worse over time.
If you have been diagnosed with COPD and are a smoker, your doctor will insist you quit smoking as soon as possible. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but if you don’t, you’ll aggravate an already serious condition.
2.) The Air We Breathe
Non-smokers can develop COPD, especially if their lungs are exposed to irritants on a daily basis. Both outdoor and indoor air pollution have been linked to COPD, although there is insufficient data to definitively make a connection between the two.
If you’re a non-smoker who has contracted COPD, it may be because you’ve been exposed to air pollutants like secondhand smoke, traffic-related irritants, and other inhaled chemicals.
If you already have COPD, air pollution can also exacerbate your symptoms, which may lead to increased illness and mortality. For that reason, your physician may recommend you avoid situations where you’ll be exposed to these irritants as much as possible. If the exposure happens in your home or workplace, your doctor may recommend changes that will ensure you have access to the cleanest breathing environment possible.
3.) Family Matters: It’s in the Genes
For some people, COPD is caused by a disorder. When the body doesn’t produce enough of a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT), lung issues can sometimes occur. AAT is a rare disorder, so it is often not considered a cause unless all other known risk factors aren’t present. If you’re under 45 years of age and diagnosed with COPD, have never smoked or been exposed to secondhand smoke, your physician may order a test to measure the levels of AAT in the bloodstream. Because AAT is responsible for a very small percentage of all COPD cases in this country, however, it is rarely considered as a cause.
If AAT is present in your body, your liver can’t move proteins to the lungs as is necessary to protect them from disease. AAT is passed to a child from his parents, who both must pass the gene on for it to potentially lead to COPD. If the gene is passed from only one parent, the child won’t contract COPD. He could, however, pass the gene on to his own children. Even someone who inherits the AAT gene from both parents may never develop any health problems related to it.
COPD is a serious disease affecting millions of adults. The best way to avoid developing the disease is never to start smoking or to stop as soon as possible. Once the disease has been diagnosed, COPD sufferers should stop smoking and avoid exposure to airborne pollutants to reduce flare-ups and remain healthy for as long as they can.
3 The Smoking and COPD Connection. (n.d.). http://www.healthline.com/health/copd/smoking. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
4 Air pollution and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (n.d.). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22142380. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
5 Ling, S., & Eeden, S. (n.d.). Particulate matter air pollution exposure: Role in the development and exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2699820/. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
6 COPD and Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) Deficiency-Topic Overview. (n.d.). http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/copd-and-alpha-1-antitrypsin-aat-deficiency-topic-overview. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
7 Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (n.d.). http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/lung-disease-data/ldd08-chapters/LDD-08-COPD.pdf. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
8 What Causes Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency? (n.d.). http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/aat/causes. Retrieved March 20, 2015.