In Australia, chronic bronchitis and emphysema usually occur in people who have smoked or continue to smoke cigarettes, but they can be caused by environmental or genetic factors. Asthma commonly occurs in non-smokers as well as smokers. It is caused by a number of different factors including but not limited to the environment, allergy and genes.
A small number of people can get emphysema from an inherited protein deficiency called alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency is a genetic disorder and those with Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency are at greater risk of developing COPD.
Alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) is a substance normally present in the blood; its role is to protect the lungs from damage. Over the course of a lifetime, the delicate tissues of the lungs are exposed daily to a variety of inhaled materials, such as pollutants, germs, dust and cigarette smoke. AAT helps the body fight against the damage caused by these pollutants.
People with a deficiency of AAT have too low a level to protect their lungs from the damaging enzymes produced by the body in reaction to the pollutants. This puts them at greater risk of developing COPD. COPD occurring at an early age is an important clue to this inherited disorder.
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