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COPD: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Causes

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 29 Apr 2019 | comments*Discuss
Copd Lungs Disease Smoking Chronic

COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It covers a range of lung diseases that include emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive airways disease.


A common symptom of COPD is what many people call “smoker’s cough”. Such a cough is persistent and becomes worse. The primary symptom, however, is Breathing Problems. Doctors refer to this as airflow obstruction.


COPD is widespread. The NHS has diagnosed about 900,000 people as having COPD. But the British Lung Foundation believes this figure is actually 3.7 million. The reason for the disparity is that people don’t go to the doctor with what they think is just a cough. More men than women in the UK suffer with COPD. But there is evidence that COPD is increasing among women.

Generally speaking, most people who develop COPD symptoms do so after the age of 40. The annual death rate from COPD in the UK is around 30,000.


Smoking is the main cause of COPD. Studies also show that lung infections, and air pollution in cities and industrial areas, may cause and contribute to the disease.

Food, in the form of cured meats, may cause COPD to develop. Some scientists say that the preservative in such meats, sodium nitrite, poses a risk if ingested in large quantities. Occupational hazards don’t necessarily cause COPD. But they can increase the risk for smokers.

Welding Fumes, for instance, may contribute to COPD. This is one of the reasons why it is vital for welding areas to have ventilation hoods that extract the fumes. Dusts inhaled by coal miners and textile industry workers may exacerbate COPD. Chemicals such as isocyanates and cadmium that are present in some industrial processes can also affect workers’ lungs and airways.


The effects of COPD are cumulative. Gradually, the bronchioles (airways) of the lungs constrict. This means that less air can reach the lungs. The alveoli (air sacs) of the lungs then suffer irreversible damage.

People who develop COPD notice difficulty breathing. Over time, this worsens; walking, bending down, tying shoelaces and other normal activities become increasingly hard. During the winter months, COPD sufferers may also cough up mucus from their lungs. The lack of air that penetrates lungs because of the narrowed bronchioles also raises the danger of heart failure.

At first, COPD may seem like asthma. But those with asthma can gain relief with successful treatments. Unfortunately, COPD is a permanent problem. Temporary relief comes in the form of an inhaler.


The best method of prevention is to stop smoking, if this applies. Studies in America show that 80% - 90% of COPD patients are smokers. But whether someone who has COPD symptoms is a smoker or not, it’s important to see a GP. Ideally, the GP should arrange a chest X-ray to confirm that COPD is the cause of any problem. The GP may also suggest a lung function test. This involves the patient blowing into a tube to determine the effectiveness of the lungs.

Such a test held in a shopping centre by the British Lung Foundation found that more than 30% of participants had a poor response.

A GP may also prescribe an inhaler and give a prescription for emergency antibiotics. Taking antibiotics promptly can make it easier to deal with the alarming breathlessness that COPD patients endure when they develop chest infections.

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Cox - 4-Apr-19 @ 1:39 PM
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Pamelawayans100 - 11-Mar-19 @ 11:25 AM
Wally - Your Question:
I have been recently diagnosed with copd and also anxiety at present I am off work unwell.the masks they provided were just paper dust masks I work within a care home using many chemicals which affect me still I can’t get my hours reduced as they said not enough cover I want to return to work but without help from my employer what can I do I think they may even sack me

Our Response:
Talk to your GP, does he/she agree that you are well enough to return full time? Will they provide information to you employer? If your employer is not able to accommodate a part time return to work for you, then yes there is a possibility you can be dismissed. If you feel that the illness has been caused by chemicals in your work place, that is a separated workplace injury issue and you should seek professional legal advice.
SafeWorkers - 23-Jul-18 @ 3:39 PM
I have been recently diagnosed with copd and also anxiety at present I am off work unwell .the masks they provided were just paper dust masks I work within a care home using many chemicals which affect me still I can’t get my hours reduced as they said not enough cover I want to return to work but without help from my employer what can I do I think they may even sack me
Wally - 20-Jul-18 @ 4:34 PM
I worked in a metallography lab for eight years this lab mainly was for weld ID. During this process many chemicals were used the one that concerns me the most was chromic acid. Several opinions I have read has chromic acid as a cause or chemical that worsens the symptoms of the lungdisease. There are many other chemicals used including Nitric Acid, Ammonium Hydroxide, sodium hydroxide, epoxy and nameless others. We used a walk in fume hood that had been altered to have fiberglass doors that we found that in certain positions caused the fumes to be forced out instead of being sucked up into the heap filters. The doors were often moved around to get the hood to pass the quarterly tests. I worked in these conditions without respirators and in this case PAPR's. for many years. What I thought was asthma when I started is now being called COPD. I am now out of work on disability. Because I worked for DOE in one of their weapons plants there is sick workers monies available. I am curious if these chemicals and conditions could be the cause of the COPD that my doctor has given me one year to live?
Coach - 19-Jun-14 @ 2:32 PM
I worked in the canvas, worked with emlyn canvas and cordage in my early late teens and twenties, making tarpaulins and marquees and repairing older canvas. Now I suffer with bronchiectasis.or COPD as some call it. Do you think I've had this because of this work? Also worked a few years carrying 140lb bags of flour, which we then had to clean the floors covers in dust and very small moths. So lately I've had pnuemonia and pluresy. But doc say this is cause of bad lungs Makes one wonder does it not. brian. P.s I am now in my early 60s.
palf - 10-Aug-11 @ 8:03 PM
I recently joind the United States Navy.Before doing so i was very active including playing with kids, playing basketball, about 5 softball games a week and going to the gym.After going on deployment in the med, and visiting Dubai, Turkey and Balrahin i developed a severe cough, weezing and shortness of breath.After several tests the doctor told me i have COPD.can being overseas cause this disease?
ZERF - 14-Jun-11 @ 6:15 PM
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