The main cause of COPD is long-term exposure to a substance that irritates and damages the airways. The most common cause is smoking, but there are actually a number of different things that can lead to COPD.
Smoking is the number one cause of COPD in the U.S. COPD typically occurs in people over 40 who either currently smoke or have smoked in the past. In fact, around 90% of individuals with COPD have smoked at some time in their lives.
Quitting smoking is one of the most helpful things one can do to positively affect COPD. While it may not be easy to do, there are many resources that can help. Visit smokefree.gov to find strategies and support for quitting.
Exposure to certain lung irritants, like secondhand smoke, dust, indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and chemical fumes, can lead to COPD. This can be caused by inhaling small amounts of these particles over a long period of time, or by inhaling large quantities of these particles over a shorter period of time.
A rare condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency may also put some people at risk for COPD. People with this condition do not have enough of a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin in their bloodstream. This protein helps to protect the lungs, and if alpha-1 antitrypsin levels fall too low, it may put the lungs at risk for developing COPD.
It is possible that a history of certain respiratory infections in childhood, such as pneumonia, could put individuals at higher risk for COPD later in life.
By knowing the symptoms of COPD, you’ll be better prepared to help your loved one proactively manage the condition. The major symptoms of COPD are:
Not everyone will have all of the symptoms of COPD, and some symptoms, such as shortness of breath, may only appear at certain times, like during exercise. Speak with the doctor if you notice that your loved one is experiencing any new or worsening symptoms.
Patients with COPD may also be at risk for certain other conditions, including, but are not limited to:
Work with the doctor to monitor your loved one for any of these conditions, and ask what you can do to help prevent them from becoming problematic.