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7 Things That Cause COPD Besides Cigarettes

Despite many misconceptions and stigma, COPD can be caused by a number of things, not just cigarettes.

Wood smoke and coal

Wood and coal are both biomass fuels. Many people around the world burn them to produce heat or light. Heat is another byproduct of combustion. But, also produced is smoke. In this smoke are many of the same chemicals and particles in cigarette smoke. These are aerosolized and easily inhaled.

When inhaling this smoke day after day after day, it can damage the lungs. So, studies of women in third world or developing nations show high incidences of COPD. It’s not caused by cigarette smoking in these cases, as they rarely smoke. But, they do spend their days cooking over wood stoves. They also use wood and coal to stay warm.4

Not everyone who cooks over wood stoves will develop COPD. Smoke usually goes up, and people try to avoid it. So, it’s rare that you can develop COPD from campfires and things like that. Researchers believe burning biomass in poorly ventilated areas is what is likely to cause COPD.

Cigar and pipe smoke

You may be inhaling less smoke. But, you are indeed inhaling smoke. And, this smoke is formed by combustion of biomass. So, both of these may also cause COPD. We should also include marijuana here. Marijuana is shown to open airways. But, the risks may, in this case, be greater than the benefits. Some studies show that your risk for developing COPD if you smoke marijuana daily is the same as if you inhale tobacco smoke daily.

Outdoor air pollution

Yes, you can develop COPD even if not exposed to smoke. Early studies seem to indicate that you can get it by inhaling outdoor air pollution. When this occurs, it is definitely done naturally. You just happen to inhale the polluted air. You do it unknowingly. You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. It’s just there. It’s probably more likely to cause COPD in populated areas. But, this is only a theory. Studies are ongoing to learn more about the impact of outdoor air pollution on COPD. Further studies may prove this theory false too.

Indoor air pollution

Say you work in a factory. You are inhaling dusts or fumes every day. The dust contains harmful particles. The fumes contain harmful chemicals. Both may cause changes inside your lungs. Both may cause COPD.


There is a particular gene that may cause COPD. It’s called the alpha-1 antitrypsin gene. If you have it, you may develop COPD even if you never smoked.

Poor lung growth

Your mom’s environment may contribute to your COPD. So, your mom smokes. Or, maybe your mom doesn’t smoke. Maybe she lives in an urban area and inhales lots of outdoor air pollution. Or, maybe she has a job that requires her to inhale dust or fumes. In either case, this may lead to poor lung growth. This can predispose you to developing COPD later in life. I described this in more detail in my post, Near Birth Events May Contribute to COPD.

The aging process

In this case, it’s called senile emphysema or COPD. It’s when your lungs naturally break down over time. It’s part of the normal aging process. Most people will develop this if they live long enough. Like any disease, it develops at different times and intensities from one person to another. It’s generally not diagnosed until after the age of 70. And it’s usually not considered a disease, but a result of aging. In most people, it’s never significant enough to even be recognized.6

Better understanding

It can help researchers better understand this disease. It can help them learn better strategies for treating it. And, ultimately, this may lead to better guidelines to help doctors best treat you. It may even lead to an eventual cure. This is all in an effort to help you breathe easier and live better with COPD.

These are seven things that may contribute to the development of COPD over time. While cigarette smoke is the most likely culprit, there are many other causes as well. Sometimes it’s even diagnosed in people who never smoked. A simple query about your lifestyle and your environment can help doctors learn how you got it.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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