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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Nonsmokers

Written By August 31, 2022No Comments

Updated on August 31, 2022

copd in nonsmokers


Smoking is invariably deemed to be linked with COPD, a debilitating respiratory disorder. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is an umbrella term for two respiratory diseases — Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. Worldwide, cigarette smoking is reason to the leading cause of COPD. However, people who have never smoked are also at risk of COPD. As per CDC statistics, the prevalence of COPD in nonsmokers is around 2.8% and 7.6% in former smokers.

This blog focuses on the mechanism of COPD affecting nonsmokers, its symptoms and management, and how it differs from COPD in smokers.

COPD In nonsmokers: How Is It Different?

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) is a crippling condition that restricts one’s ability to breathe. It affects the lungs and blocks airway passage. The most common cause of COPD is smoking, however, COPD in nonsmokers is also prevalent, the causes of which are other than cigarette smoking. The damage to the lungs leads to restricted airflow, making breathing more challenging. COPD is a progressive condition that worsens with time and age. Although it can not be eliminated it can be managed by adopting an appropriate management strategy. COPD Clinical Trials in Michigan could provide people with treatment options and management strategies for their symptoms.

Types of COPD in Nonsmokers:

Chronic Bronchitis. Let’s delve a little deeper into these two conditions.

  • Emphysema: Emphysema damages the air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli. Your lungs get bigger as a result of the stretched-out walls of the injured air sacs, making it more difficult to breathe in and out. Muscular dystrophy is reported to be severe in emphysema. As a result, the affected individual experiences muscle weakness and fatigue.
  • Chronic Bronchitis: In chronic bronchitis, your bronchi, which are the air passages in your lungs, become irritated and inflamed, and you cough for at least three months each year for the preceding two years. It’s a chronic condition that either continually returns or never completely heals.

causes of copd in nonsmokers

What causes COPD in Non-smokers?

The major risk factors and causes for COPD in nonsmokers other than smoking include:

  • Secondhand smoke:

    Even if you do not smoke, but people around you do, then you are at risk of developing COPD.

  • Chemicals/fumes at the workplace:

    Industrial gasses, dust, and chemicals can irritate and inflame the lungs and airways over time. The odds of having COPD rises as a result. People who work in industries that generate dust and chemical vapors, such as metal molders, grain handlers, and coal miners, are more likely to acquire COPD.

  • Pollution:

    When exposure to contaminants is severe or prolonged indoors and outdoors, the condition may result. Particulates from the smoke of solid fuels used for cooking and heating are included in indoor air pollution. Examples include cooking over a fire, using biomass or coal, and using inadequately ventilated wood stoves.

  • Genetics:

    Rarely, people who never smoke or are exposed to airborne particles because of genetic causes can acquire COPD. Lack of the protein alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) is the outcome of the genetic disease.

  • Age:

    People at least 40 years old are most likely to get COPD. With age, the incidence rises.

Are Symptoms of COPD In Nonsmokers different from Smokers?

  • Frequently coughing up mucus, feeling short of breath, even after light exercise, wheezing, or noisy breathing,
  • Chest constriction,
  • Persistent cough,
  • Possessing little vigor, and
  • Repeatedly occurring respiratory infections.

Both smokers and nonsmokers experience the same COPD symptoms. However, studies suggest that people who never smoked and have COPD may experience fewer symptoms than people who smoke now or in the past.

Shortness of breath is an issue for some people, and they express their concerns to their doctor. However, COPD symptoms typically don’t show up until there is profound lung damage.

Nonsmokers may receive a COPD diagnosis at a later age since the disease may not be as severe in them and symptoms usually show up late in nonsmokers.

Additionally, nonsmokers are less likely to have comorbidities or diseases that develop concurrently with COPD. Exacerbations, often comprehended as flare-ups of COPD symptoms can nonetheless occur in nonsmokers.

Is COPD In Nonsmokers Hereditary?

The majority of the time, COPD is not inherited. Typically, exposure to substances like chemical fumes or tobacco smoke causes it.

However, occasionally genes do contribute to the illness. Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD) is a hereditary disorder in which the production of the alpha-1 antitrypsin protein is improperly coded from birth. This may lead to inadequate levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin protein or the presence of damaged proteins.

Normally, this protein defends the body from the enzyme neutrophil elastase. Neutrophil elastase affects the body’s tissues without enough alpha-1 antitrypsin, particularly the lungs.

copd hereditary

Diagnosis of COPD in Nonsmokers:

There is no single or definite test to diagnose COPD in nonsmokers. Your medical history, physical exam, lung function tests, and chest imaging tests like an X-ray or CT scan are all used by physicians to make their diagnosis.

The lung function test called spirometry, which measures airflow out of your lungs, is a crucial tool for detecting COPD. It is also referred to as a PFT or Pulmonary Function Test. This quick, painless test evaluates lung capacity and function. For this test, you exhale as forcefully as you can into a tube that is attached to the spirometer, a little machine.

Researchers have developed a short, five-question test to assist primary care physicians in deciding which patients should undergo spirometry testing for COPD. The test is abbreviated as CAPTURE. It stands for COPD Assessment in Primary Care to Identify Undiagnosed Respiratory Disease and Exacerbation Risks.

This set of questions does not involve anything related to smoking. According to research, factors other than smoking are more likely to help in diagnosing COPD in nonsmokers.

Can COPD in Nonsmokers be Prevented?

COPD cannot be completely cured but can be managed with the right care. Although the diagnosis of COPD in nonsmokers can be overwhelming for some, it is essential not to lose sight of what is important. Here are some of the ways that can help in preventing COPD in nonsmokers.

  • Avoid smoking,
  • Avoid pollutants,
  • Lifestyle modification,
  • Join support groups,
  • Focus on developing muscle strength,
  • Improve the air quality of your surroundings,
  • Adopt breathing exercises,
  • Maintain a healthy weight, and
  • Opt for water-based exercises.

What is the Prognosis of COPD in Non-Smokers?

Your age, health, and COPD symptoms determine how long you can endure the condition. You may be able to live for 10 or even 20 years after diagnosis, especially if your COPD is detected early, you have mild stage COPD, and your condition is adequately managed and controlled.

Treatment Options for COPD in Non-Smokers:

It’s possible to manage COPD in nonsmokers. COPD patients should know that these benign symptoms can be avoided by adopting healthy lifestyle changes and preventive measures. The alternatives for managing COPD are as follows:

  • Medications
  • Lung therapies 


COPD in nonsmokers is a debilitating ailment that can drastically affect a person’s lifestyle and productivity levels. Despite the severity of the condition, COPD can be prevented and managed effectively. It is essential to be aware of the triggers and take precautions to avoid them if you want to stop the condition from growing worse and keep it under control.

Nonsmokers have great leeway in the sense that they can easily handle the condition just by avoiding the main risk factor, smoking (passive smoking). These small efforts not only help the affected individuals but also make a community stronger and healthier.

Dr. Zara Khan

Author Dr. Zara Khan

Dr. Zara is a Dentist with expert knowledge in Recruitment tactics. Coupled with her insight into Marketing and her love for understanding medical conditions, she is an integral addition to Revival’s Patient Recruitment Department. She is currently pursuing her MBA in Health and Hospital Management.

More posts by Dr. Zara Khan

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