Causes of Emphysema
The most common emphysema causes are from breathing in fumes and other irritants that damage the lungs and airways. Cigarette smoking is the most common irritant that causes the disease, but other factors (including dust and genetics) can cause it as well. People with a family history of emphysema are more likely to get the disease if they smoke. The chance of developing emphysema is also greater in people who have spent many years in contact with lung irritants such as air pollution and chemical fumes.
Most emphysema causes involve repeated breathing in of fumes and other things that irritate and damage the lungs and airways.
Specific causes of emphysema can include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco
- Certain fumes or dust
- Genetic factors.
Cigarette smoking is the most common irritant that causes emphysema. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoking can also cause emphysema, especially if the smoke is inhaled.
Fumes and Dust
Breathing in other fumes and dusts over a long period of time may also cause the disease. The lungs and airways are highly sensitive to these irritants. They cause the airways to become inflamed, narrowed, and destroy the elastic fibers that allow the lung to stretch, then come back to its resting shape. This makes breathing air in and out of the lungs more difficult.
Other things that may irritate the lungs and contribute to emphysema include:
- Working around certain kinds of chemicals and breathing in the fumes for many years
- Working in a dusty area over many years
- Heavy exposure to air pollution
- Being around secondhand smoke (smoke in the air from other people smoking cigarettes).
Genes (tiny bits of information in your body's cells passed on by your parents) may play a role in developing emphysema.
In rare cases, emphysema is caused by a gene-related disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Alpha-1 antitrypsin is a protein in your blood that inactivates destructive proteins in the blood. People with antitrypsin deficiency have low levels of alpha-1 antitrypsin; the imbalance of proteins leads to the destruction of the lungs. If people with this condition smoke, the disease progresses more rapidly.