Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is nothing but the occurrence of two co-existing lung diseases which are known to narrow the airways in the lungs. The diseases are- emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These limit the flow of air to and from the lungs causing a condition known as dyspnea or shortness of breath. The main difference between asthma and COPD is that in case of COPD the characteristic low airflow in the lungs is very poorly reversible and only gets worse with time.
The prime cause behind the occurrence of COPD are noxious particles or gas which is commonly found in cigarette smoke which leads to an inflammation of the lungs, and hence the condition is commonly found in most of the tobacco smokers.
Smoking tobacco is the primary cause for COPD. A study shows that almost 90 percent of the cases of COPD occurring in the United States is due to smoking. A person’s likelihood of developing COPD increases with age and exposure to smoke. Most of the life-long smokers develop COPD, provided other smoking related diseases do not claim their lives earlier.
2. Occupational exposures
COPD can also be caused as a result of prolonged exposure to dust, that is a by-product of coal and gold mining and also the cotton textile industry. Also, a prolonged exposure to certain chemicals such as isocyanates and cadmium and welding fumes are known to cause COPD even in the case of non-smokers. However, when a regular smoker is exposed to the above mentioned conditions they tend to develop COPD quicker than those who do not smoke. It is known that when exposed to heavy silica dust, a lung restrictive disease known as silicosis occurs but in the case of a less intense exposure it is also found to lead to a condition which is very much like COPD.
3. Air pollution
It is found that people who live in large cities are much more likely to develop COPD than those who live in rural areas. Urban air pollution maybe one of the reasons behind COPD, but conclusive long term study regarding the link between air pollution and COPD has not yet been taken up by any confirmed sources. Studies conducted regarding the effect of aggravating compounds such as sulphur dioxide commonly found in industrial wastes, suggest that industrial processes that involve combustion also aggravate the condition of people suffering from COPD.
4. Indoor air pollution
Indoor air pollution is also believed to cause several cases of COPD. According to the official figures from the WHO it is believed that more than 1million deaths occurs across the world every year as a result of indoor air pollution. The lung irritants that result from indoor activities such as breathing smoke as a result of cooking over an open wood fire or as a result of the smoke being circulated indoors from a fire place as a result of poor ventilation may also lead to COPD.
Medically knows as AAT or Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency, is the cause of about 2 percent of COPD cases. In this condition, the body does not make enough of protein Alpha-1 Antitrypsin. This particular protein is instrumental in protecting the lungs from damage that is caused due to protease enzymes, which in turn are generally released causing an inflammation in the lungs as a result of tobacco smoking.
The gene AAT is present in every person. However, in some cases, it is found that when a person inherits the defective AAT genes from both of his parents, he has very low amounts of AAT in his blood which is incapable of protecting his lungs from the irreparable damage due to elastase. This leads to COPD by the age of 40, it is accelerated in case of smokers.
6. Respiratory Infections
Common respiratory infections such as influenza, pneumonia and several others are also known to trigger COPD. The bacteria and viruses that cause these respiratory infections, breakdown the lining of the airways that results in inflammation and the person is opposed with a severe risk of secondary infections and in some cases also COPD. This can be successfully avoided with the help of annual vaccines against flu and pneumonia. It is very necessary for anybody already suffering from COPD to have these vaccines regularly as they protect against viruses and bacteria that can worsen COPD.
7. Indoor Allergens
COPD is not only caused by poor indoor air quality but also by several indoor allergens such as dust and dust mites especially if there is anyone living in the same house as you who is suffering from asthma. It is very essential to cover the pillows and mattresses with readily available dust resistant covers and also washing them once a week with water pre heated to 131 degrees faranheit. It is also advisable to stay away from the presence of articles such as stuffed toys etc. which are known to collect dust.
8. Seasonal Allergies
Certain studies show that people who are prone to any allergies have an increased risk of contracting COPD. These symptoms worsen during the allergy season. Allergies may or may not act as direct lung irritants. But several allergies are known to indirectly lead to COPD through allergic rhinitis and postnassal drip. Postnassal drip stimulates the nerves at the back end of the nose which leads to cough that can enhance COPD symptoms. Those who are allergy prone can try antihistamines or stay indoors during their allergy seasons in order to reduce allergic reactions.
9. Weather Extremes and Psychological Stress
COPD symptoms are often known to aggravate at extreme weather conditions. Some may be sensitive towards extreme colds while others may be sensitive to extreme heat and humid conditions. It is necessary to find out which type of weather make you feel uncomfortable and avoid it by making use of suitable air-conditioning.
Stress is also known to hamper your COPD management as it dampens the immune system and makes you more vulnerable towards infections. It can also enhance the shortness of breath in people already suffering from COPD. Hence, proper relief for psychological stress must be obtained in order to reduce the ill effects of COPD.