What are the Primary Causes of COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive disease that causes difficulty breathing. But what are the primary causes of COPD?

To understand COPD, it’s also essential to understand a few basics about your lungs. The tubes that allow air to travel to your lungs are called bronchial tubes. These airways branch many times into thousands of smaller, thinner tubes called bronchioles. The tiny tubes then end in a bunch of tiny round air sacs. When you breathe in, each air sac fills up with air and inflates. Breathing out allows the air sacs to deflate. COPD occurs when airways and air sacs lose their elasticity, air sacs become damaged, airways are swollen or inflamed, or when airways make more mucus than usual and become clogged. These damages result in the lungs struggling to get needed oxygen.

Let’s take a closer look at the primary causes of COPD.


Most COPD patients (about 85-90%) suffer as a result of cigarette smoke. The harmful chemicals found in cigarettes weaken your lung’s defense against infections. Passages in your lungs can narrow, air tube swell, and destroy air sacs, which leads to COPD. Injured lungs have trouble moving enough air in and out, making it hard to get the oxygen you need.

Besides being the most common of the primary causes of COPD, smoking can also trigger flare-ups in COPD patients. When your lungs are already damaged, it’s hazardous to expose them to more potential damage.

Exposure to Lung Irritants

Though smoking is the most common primary cause of COPD, it is certainly not the only cause. Non-smokers are also at risk. Any exposure to lung irritants can cause permanent damage to your lungs. Being in any sort of environment with an unhealthy air quality could damage your air sacs, which will make it difficult to breathe. The most common culprits of lung irritants are second-hand smoke and environmental stress. 

Whenever possible, avoid breathing in any smoke, chemicals, dust, or anything that could harm your airways. If your air quality is poor, stay inside until it improves. Make places where you spend the majority of your time smoke-free. Spend time in the fresh air and keep your lungs healthy.

Alpha-1 Deficiency

It’s rare, but there is a genetic condition that can lead to COPD. This deficiency affects the body’s ability to produce protein or Alpha-1 that protects the lungs. Without needed protection, the lungs become exposed to harmful irritants. When your lungs are damaged, you are likely to develop COPD. Alpha-1 deficiency can lead to severe lung disease and even liver disease. If you know this deficiency in your family line, you can get tested to see if you are at risk. Early diagnosis could help you to avoid disease down the road.

Managing Your COPD with O2 Assist 

While we encourage everyone to avoid the primary causes of COPD, it is a progressive disease, which worsens over time, but it is possible to live with. Oxygen therapy is an excellent option for living with COPD. An oxygen concentrator can help you keep living your life while still being able to breathe in and out healthily. 

O2 Assist is your go-to online shop for both at-home and portable oxygen concentrators. If you have COPD or believe oxygen therapy could benefit you, speak with your doctor to learn more. When you’re ready to purchase, shop our selection of portable and home oxygen, or contact us to learn more.