Tobacco smoke (either through active smoking or passively inhaled from secondhand smoke) – Toxins in tobacco smoke damage the cilia in the lungs. These hair-like structures enable the lungs to clear mucus. If they are damaged, they cannot clear the mucus and this often results in a persistent cough.
Air pollutants found in the home and workplace – A variety of products used throughout the home, such as cleaners and paints, give off fumes that can irritate the respiratory tract. Wood smoke and strong perfumes can as well. In addition, allergens can increase airway inflammation, such as mold, dust and pet dander.
Outdoor air pollution – Air pollution can cause inflammation in the lungs, leading to damage. Living in dense urban environments near industrial facilities and major transportation corridors can increase your exposure to air pollution.
Genetic factors – Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency is a rare genetic disorder known to decrease the production of a specific protein in the body. This deficiency may cause emphysema to develop even if the individual did not smoke or live near significant sources of air pollution.
Respiratory infections – Those suffering from COPD get respiratory infections with more frequency than others, and this can lead to a COPD exacerbation.