What is COPD?

4) What causes COPD?

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Select the pictures to see what causes COPD. It is likely that a combination of factors cause COPD.

  • Smoking (Icon: cigarette)
    • Smoking is the major risk factor of COPD and is thought to cause 85-90% of COPD cases.
    • Smoking cannabis is also thought to cause COPD by irritation of the lining in the lung. It is often mixed with tobacco when smoked.
    • People who have never smoked and who have been regularly exposed to passive or second hand smoke may develop COPD. If you live with someone who smokes you are also exposed to passive or second hand smoke even if you do not smoke yourself.  Children who’s parents smoke are particularly vulnerable to exposure at home and in cars.
    • If a child has asthma exposure to smoke can trigger an attack.Children who have severe and persistent asthma are more likely to develop COPD in later life.
    • If a parent who has smoked develops COPD then their children are likely to develop COPD in later life especially if they also start smoking. A parent who smokes can become a “smoking role model” as children of smokers copy what they see their parents do and are more likely to become smokers when they are older.
    • Smoking while pregnant may cause the child to develop COPD in adult life.
  • Environmental (Icon: power station)
    • Damp housing may contribute to COPD in adult life or trigger lung problems in children particularly if a child has an existing respiratory disease.
    • It is thought that there may be some environmental causes of COPD. It is known that weather changes can cause flare-ups of existing lung disease.
    • Air pollution from industrial chimneys or car exhaust fumes in built up areas make COPD much worse.
  • Genetics (Icon: DNA helix)
    • COPD can run in families with a genetic link. Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency (α1-antitrypsin deficiency) is a genetic disorder that affects less than 1% of patients with COPD. It is a gene deficiency which leads to the development of emphysema. See the support group link for more information.
    • Genetic research shows some people are more prone to nicotine addiction than others. This may explain why some people find quitting smoking much more difficult than others.
  • Occupational (Icon: coal mining)
    • Coal mining is a cause of COPD. In the UK, mining is the only occupation where compensation may be paid.
    • Farming, welding, the building trades and other dusty occupations are thought to cause COPD.
  • Children (Icon: child)
      Children may have a higher risk of developing COPD in adult life

    • if exposed to passive or second hand smoke when they are young
    • if diagnosed with respiratory problems
    • a low weight at birth.