Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disorder that causes blocked airways. The most common manifestations of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

COPD is the third most common cause of death in the United States.

Unlike other types of lung disease, COPD is most common in older adults. It’s a progressive illness that takes several years to develop. The longer you have certain risk factors for COPD, the more likely you are to develop the disease as an older adult.

COPD occurs most often in older adults and can also affect people in their middle ages. It’s not common in younger adults.

When people are younger, their lungs are still in a generally healthy state. It takes several years for COPD to develop.

Most people are at least 40 years old when symptoms of COPD first appear. It’s not impossible to develop COPD as a young adult, but it is rare.

There are certain genetic conditions, such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, that can predispose younger people to developing COPD. If you develop symptoms of COPD at a very young age, typically under 40 years of age, your physician may screen for this condition.

The progression of the disease can vary slightly, so it’s more important to focus on possible COPD symptoms rather than solely on the age you might get it.

You should see your doctor if you exhibit any of the following symptoms of COPD:

COPD is most common in current and former smokers. In fact, smoking accounts for up to 8 out of 10 COPD-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Smoking’s bad for the entire body, but it’s particularly harmful to the lungs.

Not only can it cause lung inflammation, but smoking also destroys the tiny air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. Smoking’s a major risk factor for lung cancer, too.

Once this damage is done, it can’t be reversed. By continuing to smoke, you’ll increase your risk of developing COPD. If you already have COPD, smoking increases the risk of premature death.

However, not all people with COPD are past or present smokers. It’s estimated that nearly 25 percent of people with COPD have never smoked.

In such cases, COPD may be attributed to other risk factors, including long-term exposure to other things that can irritate and harm the lungs. These include:

No matter the exact cause of COPD, it typically takes high amounts of exposure for significant destruction in the lungs to develop.

This is why you might not realize the damage until it’s too late. Having asthma and being exposed to the things mentioned above can also increase the risk.

If you’re exposed to any of these irritants on a regular basis, it’s best to limit your exposure as much as you can.

COPD is most prevalent in older and middle-aged adults, but it’s not a normal part of aging. If you think you have symptoms of COPD, you should seek treatment right away.

Prompt treatment can slow the progression of the disease and help prevent complications. Smoking cessation slows the progression of the disease as well. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about getting help with quitting.