Can You Get COPD if You Don't Smoke?

Can Non-Smokers Get COPD?Smoking is a significant risk factor for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD. However, you don’t have to smoke to get this condition. People who have never smoked can still develop COPD. The condition refers to inflammation in the bronchi and air sacs in the lungs, making it harder to breathe. While smoking can create inflammation and damage the bronchi and air sacs, this can also happen on its own.

If you are concerned about COPD in a non-smoker, read on for more information about this condition and how it can be managed.

How Likely is a Non-Smoker to Develop COPD?

COPD is often associated with smokers, but there is a lot of misconceptions about the condition. Currently, it’s estimated that COPD affects 65 million people worldwide, though the actual number is probably much higher because people are unaware they have it. Studies also show that the number of non-smokers with COPD is higher than we previously thought - between 10 and 20 percent of people with COPD have never lit up.

There are other risk factors besides smoking that can put you at a higher risk for COPD, including:

● Exposure to secondhand smoke. If you were exposed to secondhand smoke as a child, this can put you at a greater risk for developing COPD.

● Exposure to air pollution. If you are exposed to long-term air pollution, you can develop COPD as a result. Other harmful contaminants to be wary of include dust, fumes and chemicals that come from cooking or the workplace.

● Genetics. It is believed that COPD has a strong genetic component. Roughly 5 percent of people with COPD have a genetic condition where they lack enough protein to protect the lungs from damage.

● Age. Most cases of COPD are diagnosed over the age of 40.

● Improperly developed lungs. Babies born prematurely or were exposed to tobacco smoke in the womb are more likely to develop COPD in their lifetime.

Are COPD Symptoms the Same in Non-Smokers?

COPD acts the same in smokers and non-smokers. Usually, the symptoms for both smokers and non-smokers include clearing the throat, being short of breath, having noisy breathing and experiencing a chronic cough.

However, some research points in the direction of non-smokers having less severe symptoms, though each person is different. Also, people who don’t smoke are generally healthier, which can reduce flare-ups, secondary symptoms and other complications.

What are Your Treatment Options?

If you are diagnosed with COPD, rest assured that there are treatment plans available that will help you feel better and improve your quality of life. Your treatment plan may include diet and exercise, taking medications (e.g., inhalers, steroids and antibiotics) and receiving oxygen therapy. In-home care is also a great option to help you manage flare-ups and cope with the condition.

More Information

For more information on COPD and other pulmonary conditions, visit our Health Videos section on COPD.