I'm Too Young To Have COPD

Last updated: September 2020

“I’m too young for COPD” is something that I frequently hear.

According to the Mayo Clinic “COPD develops slowly over years, so most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms begin1.”

Symptoms take time

Many people don’t notice or realize that they have a disease until a few years later. If a person smokes, he/she might relate their shortness of breath or other symptoms to that. Sometimes they are given an early diagnosis of asthma or other. Because of this, a person might not realize or might not be diagnosed with COPD at that time.

Causes and risk factors

Alpha-1 and genetic COPD

Often, if a person is diagnosed with COPD at a younger age, the doctor might also have a blood test for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency which is the genetic form of COPD. If your family history includes family members with COPD, the doctor might also recommend that you are tested for Alpha-1.

On our page, "Alpha-1 Deficiency: Were You Tested?", it says that “The core symptoms are very similar to those of the more standardly diagnosed COPD, but while typical COPD progression is based on airborne irritants and toxins damaging the lungs, AAT deficiency causes a lower production of the protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage, leaving them vulnerable to early onset disease such as emphysema.” It’s important that people are tested for Alpha-1 in case there is a possibility that they have it. There have been people in their 20's that were diagnosed with COPD, because of the Alpha-1.


There have also been early diagnoses because of exposures in the house and workplace, that can cause COPD without smoking:

  • Tobacco – When you inhale tobacco and its chemicals when you smoke. There are 400 plus chemicals in tobacco. These include arsenic which is a pest killer and even acetone which is an ingredient in acetone.
  • Second-hand smoke – When someone else smokes and you inhale it.
  • Third-hand smoke – When smoke is inhaled from furniture, toys, clothes and more.
  • Toxic chemicals are found in different places: Coal, petroleum, welding, printing, concrete, mining, fossil fuels, soot, silica, vehicle exhaust, ammonia, chlorine, mineral dust, asbestos, perfumes, and so many other things.

It makes me wonder what is safe to breathe, safe for our lungs. It’s a wonder that more people haven’t been diagnosed in the younger years.


We are not responsible for everything in the environment. Some towns and cities have factories, others have power plants. Some cities have pollution, others don’t. Should a person pack up and move? Ask yourself if you will be trading one environmental issue for another. Just as we have asked ourselves, would moving to a dry climate be better for our COPD or is a cold climate okay? Before packing up and moving, visit a place first, spend a month if you can.

Living in apartments, even next to a smoker’s home, working in stores and offices can bring the cigarette smoke to you. Hopefully, it doesn’t make you want to smoke, but that it annoys you. Don’t take that wrong, I always hope that smoke doesn’t lead to cravings. Annoyances make a person disapprove of the taste and smell that you experience when around smoke. We are one person in an environment of many. Smoking may not be allowed indoors, but it is outside. I remember when smokers were moved outside, even when I smoked, it was hard to go outside. It seemed smokers were grouchier, especially in the winter. It may seem that they may appear to get more rights because ashtrays are so close to the doors.

Smoke can travel inward, and you may have to walk through it to go into your building. You likely can’t prevent the smoking but maybe you can make a difference and have them smoke away from the doors. People do tend to stand in front of the doors, because that’s often where the outdoor ashtrays are placed. They were placed there to remind people to get rid of the cigarette before going into the building and not to throw the cigarette butts on the ground. Children and teens start smoking early, yes, this has been done for many years. These young smokers are too young for COPD too. For now.

The importance of a support system

For those who are too young for COPD or of a later age, I am so sorry. My heart also goes out to you, to each of you. It’s so important that you know, you aren’t alone. A support system is so important, maybe even a few therapy sessions. We have a community here of those who do understand and do care. There is so much information available to you on our site COPD.net as well as our Facebook page.

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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 COPD.net 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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