Studies suggest that about 95 percent of people who develop COPD are current or former cigarette smokers. Still, evidence suggests that smoking is not the only risk factor, and that people who have never smoked may still develop COPD. Here are ten risk factors for developing COPD.
- Smoking Cigarettes**.** It’s not so much the nicotine, but the 5,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke that cause all the harmful effects of smoking, including the destruction of lung tissue and the loss of lung function. In fact, studies show smoking is harmful to the smoker and anyone else who happens to inhale it – including children, and even fetuses.
2. Genetics. I previously discussed the impact of genetics on COPD. The general idea is that repeated exposure to certain substances in the air, such as chemicals in cigarette smoke, may cause airway changes that result in COPD. Certain genes may also increase the risk of developing COPD, especially when exposed to environmental triggers like cigarette smoke.
3. Aging. Some people develop senile emphysema, which is the slow but natural breakdown of lung tissue as one gets older. Studies suggest this is probably caused by increased air spaces in the lungs due to natural causes, and not due to inflammation caused by chronic exposure to pollutants.
4. Gender. Older studies showed that men were more susceptible to COPD than women, although this may have been due to the fact men were more likely to smoke. Modern evidence may actually suggest that women are more likely to develop COPD than men. You can learn more by reading our post Why Women Are at Higher Risk for COPD Than Men.
5. Lung Maturity. Studies seem to suggest that anything that negatively impacts lung growth at or near birth may contribute to the development of asthma or COPD later in life. Premature birth, small birth weight, and severe lung infections have all been linked with the development of asthma and COPD. Generally, small birth weight is considered less than five pounds.
6. Wood Smoke. Smoke produced from wood stoves, fire places, wildfires, campfires, and cigarettes contains microscopic particles and toxic chemicals that can easily be inhaled deep into the lungs. These particles are believed to damage airways leading to loss of lung function over time.
7. Chemicals. Chemicals from common household cleaners, or those produced at work, may easily be inhaled deep into airways. Chronic exposure may result in airway changes that cause a gradual loss of lung funciton. Harmful chemicals are also in cigarette and wood smoke.
8. Poverty. Some studies show an inverse relationship between income and COPD, with those in poverty more likely to develop it. No one knows the exact reason, although exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution at home or work may be a contributing factor. Stress may result in risky behavors, such as smoking cigarettes and taking high risk jobs, both of which increase exposure to high risk chemicals that are linked to lung disease. To learn more, read our post 10 Links Between Poverty and COPD.
9. Asthma. Asthmatic airways are chronically inflamed and over-sensitive to asthma triggers, such as dust mites, mold spores, pollens, cockroach urine, and other microscopic substances that get into the air inhaled. Studies suggest that repeated and uncontrolled asthma may lead to airway changes and the development of the Asthma COPD Overlap Syndrome, otherwise known as Severe Asthma. Other studies suggests those diagnosed with asthma have a 10 percent greater chance of developing COPD than those without asthma.
10. Chronic Bronchitis. This is defined as chronic cough and increased sputum production at least three months a year for two straight years. It may exist without loss of lung function, and without the presence of emphysema. Still, evidence exists that the accumulation of mucus may obstruct airways leading to loss of lung function and shortness of breath. Evidence suggests that those who continue to smoke after a diagnosis of chronic bronchitis are at increased risk for developing COPD.
11. Infections. Severe lung infections early in life may cause airway changes that lead to loss of lung function and increased shortness of breath later in life. Actually, various studies have linked severe lung infections early in life with asthma and COPD.
Continuing education. As researchers learn more, there may be more added to this list of things that might potentially cause one to develop COPD. Such knowledge may be key to preventing chronic lung disease in the future.
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A Registered Respiratory Therapist and asthmatic