Most people with emphysema smoke or have smoked in the past.
A very small proportion of people get emphysema because they inherited a faulty gene that normally helps to keep the air sacs of the lungs healthy.
Other causes of emphysema and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) include:
- passive smoking, particularly during infancy
- exposure to industrial dust and chemicals
- exposure to air pollutants.
Over time, the lung tissue becomes stiff and less effective at taking oxygen into the body.
Smoking makes emphysema worse - whatever the cause.
Last reviewed: November 2016