by Inés Pierro

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COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. Symptoms include breathing difficulty, cough, sputum production and wheezing.The majority of cases are caused by long-term cigarette smoking. Often occurs in people exposed to fumes from burning fuel for cooking and heating in poorly ventilated homes. People with COPD are at increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer and a variety of other conditions. COPD is treatable

How your lungs are affected

Air travels down your trachea and into your lungs through bronchi. Inside your lungs, they divide into bronchioles that end in clusters of tiny air sacs (alveoli). The air sacs have very thin walls full of capillaries. The oxygen in the air you inhale passes into these blood vessels and enters your bloodstream. At the same time, carbon dioxide is exhaled.

COPD causes your lungs to lose their elasticity and overexpand, which leaves some air trapped in your lungs when you exhale.

Causes of airway obstruction

  • Emphysema. This lung disease causes destruction of the walls and elastic fibers of the alveoli. Small airways collapse when you exhale, impairing airflow out of your lungs.
  • Chronic bronchitis. Bronchial tubes become inflamed and narrowed and your lungs produce more mucus, which can block the narrowed tubes. You develop a chronic cough trying to clear your airways.
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  • Exposure to tobacco smoke. The most significant risk factor for COPD is long-term cigarette smoking. The more years you smoke and the more packs you smoke, the greater your risk. Pipe smokers, cigar smokers and marijuana smokers are at risk, as are people exposed to large amounts of secondhand smoke.
  • People with asthma who smoke.
  • Occupational exposure to dusts and chemicals. Long-term exposure to chemical fumes, vapors and dusts in the workplace can irritate and inflame your lungs.
  • Age. Most people are at least 35 to 40 years old when symptoms begin.
  • Genetics. Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is the cause of some cases of COPD. Other genetic factors likely make certain smokers more susceptible to the disease.
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