Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) | Causes & Risk Factors


What causes COPD?

COPD is caused by damage to the lungs. This type of damage typically occurs when you regularly breathe in irritants over a long period of time. Common irritants include:

  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes, gases, vapors, or mists
  • Cigarette smoke (including second-hand smoke)
  • Dust

What are the risk factors for COPD?

The primary risk factor for COPD is smoking. Approximately 80% to 90% of COPD cases are caused by long-term smoking. The best way to prevent or keep COPD from getting worse is to quit smoking.

Workers who are regularly exposed to chemicals or dust while at work also are at risk of developing COPD. Workers who smoke and have exposure to other irritants are at even greater risk of developing COPD.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 08/12
Created: 08/01