The risk to develop COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is related to the total burden of inhaled noxious particles that a person encounters during his or her life. The main sources of inhaled noxious particles, are:
- Tobacco smoke, in particular cigarette, but also pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco. Passive smoking may also contribute to COPD development by increasing the lungs total burden of inhaled particles and gases. Smoking during pregnancy is also very risky for the fetus, because this habit may affect lung growth and development.
It is fundamental to know that worldwide, cigarette smoking is the most commonly encountered risk factor for COPD.
- Occupational dusts and chemicals (vapors, irritants, and fumes) when the exposures are sufficiently intense or prolonged.
- Indoor air pollution, determined, for instance, by biomass fuel used for cooking and heating in poorly vented dwellings. This risk factor is particularly important for women in developing countries.
- Outdoor air pollution increases the total burden of particles entering one person’s lungs. However, it appears to have a relatively small effect in causing COPD.
It is also supposed that COPD may have also other causes. For instance, it has been proved that lack of a particular protein (alpha-1 antitrypsin) may increase the risk of developing COPD. In addition, any factor that affects lung growth during gestation and childhood, such as low birth weight and respiratory infections, may increase an individual’s risk of developing COPD in later life.