What Causes COPD?

What Causes COPD?

After being diagnosed with COPD, many patients wonder about what caused their disease. Understanding what causes COPD can help you cope with your diagnosis and understand how to slow the progression of the disease over time. Additionally, being clear about what causes COPD could help you avoid developing COPD if you are at risk but have not yet developed the disease. Learn more about COPD causes to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.  

What Is COPD?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a progressive, long-term lung disease that makes breathing harder over time. COPD is an umbrella term that encompasses both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and involves symptoms that worsen with time. COPD symptoms most commonly include a cough that produces mucus, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and wheezing. COPD is the result of damage to your airways and lungs. This damage can occur in a variety of ways, including lost elasticity in the air sacs (alveoli), excess mucus in the airways, inflamed and thickened airway walls or destruction of the walls between the air sacs in the lungs. Regardless of the problem occurring in the airways and the lungs, the result is that less air flows in and out of the airways, which causes you difficulty in getting the oxygen you need. 

Though COPD cannot be cured and damage to the airways and lungs cannot be reversed, the progression of the disease can be slowed with the right care and treatment. Many people can continue to live full and active lives for quite some time, even while living with COPD. Each case is different, however, so anyone diagnosed with COPD should talk to their doctor about how to best treat their symptoms and their disease. 

What Are the COPD Risk Factors?

When it comes to COPD risk factors, there are a number of things that contribute to what causes COPD. It is helpful to be familiar with the risk factors so you know if you or your loved ones are at an increased risk of developing the disease, as well as whether you can reduce your risk factors. As research on this disease continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that both genetics and long-term exposure to lung irritants work together to cause COPD. Though smoking is at the top of the COPD causes, many people are surprised to discover that nonsmokers can develop this disease, too. Here are the risk factors for COPD and how they contribute to the development of COPD in most people. 

  • Early Childhood Lung Infections: Adults who experienced severe lung infections in early childhood have an increased risk of COPD in later life, particularly if they had a low birth weight. 
  • Gender: As of the year 2000, more women die of COPD annually than men. This may be a result of the rise in women smokers or, as some evidence suggests, because women may be more susceptible to the damaging effects of tobacco smoke. 
  • Increased Age: As you get older, your risk of developing COPD increases, as does the risk of complications associated with COPD. 
  • Occupational Exposure: People exposed to lung irritants like chemicals, dust, fumes, pesticides and vapor at the workplace are at an increased risk of developing COPD. In fact, studies show that 21% of COPD cases are the result of this kind of exposure. 
    • Pollution: Both indoor and outdoor pollution can contribute to a higher risk of developing COPD. In areas of the world where biomass fuels (like coal, dung, straw and wood) are used for cooking and heating, the incidences of COPD are significantly higher. People who smoke indoors or who live with people who smoke inside are also at a higher risk. Outdoor pollution is also a contributing factor, but does not seem to have the same impact as indoor pollution. 
  • Socioeconomic Factors: Living in poverty comes with a significantly increased risk of developing COPD and complications associated with the disease. The increased risk may be a result of higher exposure to pollutants, higher smoking rates, poor access to healthcare, poor nutrition and overcrowded living situations. 
  • Tobacco Smoke: Still the number one risk factor for COPD, tobacco smoke is responsible for between 75% to 90% of all COPD cases. Though not all smokers will develop COPD, the number of smokers who do is rising. 

Additional possible risk factors include:

  • Asthma: More research is necessary to confirm the connection between asthma and COPD, but studies indicate that adults who had severe, persistent asthma as a child are almost 32 times more likely to develop COPD as adults. Children with mild asthma do not appear to have an increased risk as adults. 

While it appears that most people who develop COPD are genetically predisposed and have either smoked or been exposed to environmental irritants, you can still take steps to reduce your risk. Do not smoke or, if you smoke, quit smoking now. It is also a good idea to avoid exposure to any kind of smoke and other lung irritants whenever possible to help minimize your risk of developing COPD. 

Understanding COPD Causes

If you want to know what causes COPD, there are almost always two parts to the equation. Generally speaking, if you develop COPD, it is because of both your genetics and your repeated exposure to a lung irritant. While you cannot do much about your genetics, you may have some control over your exposure to lung irritants. If your workplace exposes you to potential irritants, talk to your superiors about a transfer to an area with less exposure. If you use irritants like chemical cleaners or wood heat in your home, change to natural cleaners like vinegar and look into different heat sources that produce fewer irritants. Often these changes can be difficult and may seem cost-prohibitive, but if they improve your health, they are worth the investment. 

The majority of people who develop COPD, however, are currently smokers or used to smoke. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, and those toxins narrow your airways by causing inflammation and swelling over time, as well as destroying your lungs’ air sacs by stiffening the walls between them and degrading the health of the walls between the air sacs. Beyond all the damage that cigarette smoke causes to your airways and lungs, it also weakens your lungs’ ability to fight off infection, so you are more prone to respiratory illnesses. If you are currently a smoker, know that cigarettes are at the top of the list of COPD causes, so it is a good idea to quit smoking now. The longer you smoke, the higher your risk of COPD. If you already have COPD and you still smoke, it is essential that you quit now to reduce your risk of complications and symptom flare-ups )COPD exacerbations), which can be life threatening. 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cannot always be avoided, but knowing what causes COPD, as well as how to minimize your exposure to COPD causes, can go a long way in lowering your risk. Talk to your doctor about your COPD risk factors and ask what you can do to stay healthier longer. If you have already been diagnosed with COPD, ask your doctor what changes you can make in your life to slow the progression of your disease. 

Learn More About COPD and COPD Treatment

When you ask, “What is COPD?” you will learn a great deal about what causes COPD and what you can do to avoid developing this disease. Preventing COPD is the ideal scenario, so it is important to know your COPD facts and know what you can do to minimize your COPD risk factors

If you have already been diagnosed with COPD, there is a lot you can do to take care of your respiratory health so you can slow the progression of your disease and minimize the likelihood of COPD exacerbations. From medication to regular exercise to pulmonary rehabilitation, talk to your doctor about which COPD treatments are right for you and your disease. For many COPD patients, oxygen therapy is an excellent way to treat the symptoms of their COPD and improve their quality of life. Ask your doctor if oxygen therapy is right for you and your COPD, and contact Inogen to find out more about how we can help you breathe better and treat your COPD symptoms. We can help you learn more about how to live as well as possible with oxygen therapy for your COPD. 







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