COPD Risk Factors


Air Pollution and Other Causes of COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a lung disorder that causes breathing difficulty and affects millions of Americans. Although the disease usually worsens and is a chronic condition, there are different treatments available to lessen symptoms. Here are the known COPD risk factors.

Smoking Tobacco

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause. The toxic chemicals present in tobacco create a narrowing of bronchial passages and induce swelling, which contribute to the development of COPD. Those who are exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk due to the presence of these chemicals in the air.


Exposure to some chemical vapors has been linked to COPD. Examples of these chemicals include chlorine and ammonia. Cases are more likely with chronic exposure in industrial settings, but unsafe use of cleaning chemicals and swimming pool chemicals at home can also heighten the risk. These chemicals can cause bronchial irritation and lung damage when inhaled.

Dusty work places can also contribute to the development of COPD in workers, especially if the dust contains chemical contaminants.

Outdoor Air Pollution

Residents of busy, polluted cities are more likely to develop this chronic condition, especially if there is traffic-related smog. Evidence shows that it must be long-term exposure, however. Visits to areas with high air pollution often exacerbate existing COPD, but no evidence suggests that short-term exposure causes the disease.

Indoor Air Pollution

Poor indoor air quality is linked to the chronic lung disease in all countries, but the prevalence increases in regions where coal or wood are used for cooking and heating. In many of these areas, COPD cases linked to indoor air pollution are often higher than cases linked to tobacco smoking.

Other contributors to poor indoor air quality, especially in industrialized nations, include cleaning chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in modern home goods such as carpets, vinyl tile and particle wood furniture. Air tightness of homes or lack of ventilation can allow these gasses to build to unsafe levels.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections that affect the lungs, especially in children, may cause lasting damage that sets the stage for COPD.

Additional Risk Factors

Any airborne substance or illness that causes inflammation within the lungs can potentially lead to COPD after long-term exposure. However, some recent studies show that some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to the disease.

COPD is treated with corticosteroids and bronchodilators, which help to reduce inflammation and open airways to make breathing easier. Some COPD patients are prescribed oxygen when breathing becomes insufficient. Since this disease is progressive, prevention is always preferable, however. Avoiding tobacco smoke, industrial pollutants and improving indoor air quality in your home are some ways you can reduce your risk.