According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death, illness, and disability in the United States. In 2000, 119,000 deaths, 726,000 hospitalizations, and 1.5 million hospital emergency room visits were caused by COPD. In the same year, an additional 8 million cases of hospital outpatient treatment or treatment by personal physicians were linked to COPD. Recent health surveys suggest that as many as 24 million Americans are affected by COPD, and many do not know it. The good news, however, is that COPD is one of the few diseases that is almost fully preventable (except for rare genetic cases) by taking the following steps:

Stop Smoking

The first step to preventing COPD is never to smoke, but if you’ve already started smoking, stop. Ask your healthcare provider about tobacco-cessation programs if you’re having a difficult time trying to quit.

Avoid Secondhand Smoke

Research proves that secondhand smoke must be taken seriously. According to the American Lung Association, 3,400 deaths occur every year from lung cancer related to secondhand smoke, and the surgeon general reports that there are no risk-free levels of secondhand exposure.

Avoid Occupational Pollutants

Hazards like chemical fumes and dust are also known to cause COPD, so be aware of these and protect yourself. Discuss prevention with your employer, and/or wear a protective mask to avoid workplace pollutants.