Smoking is the most common cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the United States. Approximately 85-90 % of the COPD we see is related to personal cigarette smoking. What about the other 10-15% of patients with this dreaded disease? How did they get it? Here are 4 common non-smoking causes.
Patients with certain types of progressive and severe asthma and those who have been poorly treated, or not treated at all, for long periods of time will develop chronic and irreversible degrees of airway narrowing that looks and acts exactly like COPD.
Some patients are born with an enzyme deficiency called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency. The deficiency has several types and can be diagnosed with a simple blood sample. It is important to make this diagnosis because there is replacement therapy available for these patients which can prevent damage to the lungs. It is also important for family members to have this information and have their children tested.
Certain workplace exposures to gases and fumes can lead to COPD, but this can be hard to prove if you are a long-time smoker. There are some gases and fumes which can damage the lungs with intense exposure and there are some that can cause the airways to become sensitized leading to wheezing and cough
Lastly, heavy exposure to second-hand smoke or air pollution can lead to permanent lung damage. Damaging air pollution is often seen in industrialized third world counties that do not have laws governing air pollution.