How Much Do You Know About COPD? Check Out These COPD MythBusters!

Posted on October 11, 2022   |   

This post was written by: Amanda Atkinson, MSN, RN.

When you hear the word COPD, what do you think of first? There are several common beliefs surrounding COPD. Some are true but many are not. Today, we are going to uncover what is myth and what is fact.

COPD MythBusters

Myth #1 COPD is only a smoker's disease

Fact: Some people think that if they never smoked, they are not at risk for COPD. While smoking of any kind and vaping are primary risk factors for developing COPD, approximately 25% of individuals diagnosed with COPD have never smoked.1 Did you know that many things can influence the development of COPD? These can include certain genetic mutations, childhood asthma, premature birth, secondhand smoke exposure, and environmental or occupational factors.2 Anyone can get COPD!

Myth #2 COPD cannot be passed down in families

Fact: Genetic forms of COPD, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, can be passed down in families. Unfortunately, only about 10% of those with Genetic COPD are diagnosed. Screening ALL patients with COPD and their family members is vitally important to properly diagnose or rule out Genetic COPD.3

Myth #3 COPD only impacts older adults or those over 65

Fact: Symptoms of COPD can develop at virtually any age. This is especially true for genetic forms such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Adults as young as 20 can experience early symptoms of COPD, 2,4,5 Early identification of risk factors and early diagnosis and treatment may help reduce or reverse lung damage.2,5

Myth #4 COPD has nothing to do with environmental factors

Fact: Environmental factors can impact the development of COPD. These include exposure to air pollution, smoke, particles, and gasses from indoor fuel use. Did you know that approximately 90% of individuals living in urban areas worldwide are impacted by air pollution? Almost one-third of non-smoking workers worldwide who have developed COPD can find a link to occupational exposure of some sort.6

Myth 5# Development of COPD has nothing to do with infections

Fact: Infections like HIV or tuberculosis can result in the development of COPD in a sizable percentage of people. Up to one-third of non-smokers who develop COPD have a history of childhood lung infections like pneumonia.2

While there may be a lack of complete information about COPD, you can always rely on the COPD Foundation to bring you accurate and current facts.

Not sure if what you are hearing is a myth or fact? Join our community on COPD360social and engage with others on their COPD journey, including medical experts at the COPD Foundation.


  1. Wheaton AG, Liu Y, Croft JB, et al. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Smoking Status — United States, 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019;68(24):533-538. doi:10.15585/MMWR.MM6824A1
  2. Stoltz, D. et al. Towards the elimination of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a Lancet Commission. The Lancet Commissions. 2022; 400(10356): 921-972. DOI:
  3. Lascano JE, Campos MA. The important role of primary care providers in the detection of alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Postgraduate Medicine. 2017;129(8):889-895. doi:10.1080/00325481.2017.1381539
  4. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (2022) "Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease."
  5. Colak Y, Afzal S, Nordestgaard B, Lange P, Vestbo J. Importance of Early COPD in Young Adults for Development of Clinical COPD. Findings from the Copenhagen General Population Study. American Journal of respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Published November 3, 2020. Accessed October 3, 2022.
  6. Kurt OK, Zhang J, Pinkerton KE. Pulmonary health effects of air pollution. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2016;22(2):138-143. doi:10.1097/MCP.0000000000000248

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