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What causes COPD?
The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke.
It is estimated that 90% of the risk for development of COPD is related to
tobacco smoke. The smoke can also be secondhand smoke (tobacco smoke
exhaled by a smoker and then breathed in by a non-smoker).
Other causes of COPD are related to air pollution, such as that seen with
burning coal or wood and with industrial air pollutants.
Infectious diseases that destroy lung tissue and patients with hyperactive
airways or asthma may also contribute to causing this disease.
The physical changes or causes are airway obstruction by thick mucus or by
poor lung tissue compliance (the elasticity, or ability of the lung tissue to
expand) that can either block air from entering the alveoli or by not permitting
the alveoli to expel CO2 because the elastic tissue becomes nonfunctional. The
overall result is that oxygen in the air cannot get by obstructions (for
example, thick mucus plugs) to reach alveoli; or as is the case with emphysema
or alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, the oxygen or air that reaches alveoli cannot
be expelled. In either case, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that
usually occurs in healthy alveoli is either inhibited or prevented.
Consequently, the person exhibits a progressive difficulty, first coughing to
remove obstructions like mucus, and then in breathing, especially with exertion.