Typically, symptoms of COPD are slow to set in and often overlapping with other respiratory illnesses. Hence, individuals having known risk factors need to be aware.
- Tobacco smoke- The most chronic irritant to the lungs is cigarette smoke. Individuals who smoke often and more packs are at highest risk. Cigar, pipe, marijuana and even large amounts of secondhand smoke increase risk. In India, a large number of people using non conventional form of tobacco in hookah, bidi, or chillum which are equally injurious.
- Biomass fuels for cooking- Biomass fuels are now considered a major cause of the causation of COPD and could be the single most common cause of COPD in the world. 70% households in India use biomass fuel for cooking and heating purposes with poorly ventilated kitchens. The amount of particulate matter pollution generated by the burning of biomass fuel is extremely high.
- Mosquito coils – Mosquito coils used in homes to get rid of mosquitoes are another source of exposure to particulate matter in Indian homes; burning of one mosquito coil in the night capable of emitting particulate matter equivalent to those with around 100 cigarettes
- Asthmatic individuals who smoke- patients suffering from asthma who smoke further enhance chance of blockage of airways increasing risk of COPD
- Exposure to dusts and chemicals- Lungs are very sensitive to chemical fumes, vapours, dust particles , especially when there is constant contact with these at workplace. Exposure to biomass fuels like crop residues or woods or animal dung is also widely prevalent in India.
- Age- The damage to the lungs occurs gradually and usually symptoms are observed in individuals in their 40’s.
- Genetics- In 1% cases, alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency forms the genetic cause of COPD.
COPD diagnosis and treatment is delayed in India. People lack the awareness of the disease, its symptoms and health implications hence those at risk do not receive timely preventive therapy.