Oxidative stress results from an oxidant/antioxidant imbalance, an excess of oxidants and/or a depletion of antioxidants. Oxidative stress is thought to play an important role in the pathogenesis of a number of lung diseases, not only through direct injurious effects, but by involvement in the molecular mechanisms that control lung inflammation. A number of studies have shown an increased oxidant burden and consequently increased markers of oxidative stress in the airspaces, breath, blood, and urine in smokers and in patients with COPD. The presence of oxidative stress has important consequences for the pathogenesis of COPD. These include oxidative inactivation of antiproteinases, airspace epithelial injury, increased sequestration of neutrophils in the pulmonary microvasculature, and gene expression of proinflammatory mediators. With regard to the latter, oxidative stress has a role in enhancing the inflammation that occurs in smokers and patients with COPD, through the activation of redox-sensitive transcriptions factors such as nuclear factor-kappaB and activator protein-1, which regulate the genes for proinflammatory mediators and protective antioxidant gene expression. The sources of the increased oxidative stress in patients with COPD are derived from the increased burden of oxidants present in cigarette smoke, or from the increased amounts of reactive oxygen species released from leukocytes, both in the airspaces and in the blood. Antioxidant depletion or deficiency in antioxidants may contribute to oxidative stress. The development of airflow limitation is related to dietary deficiency of antioxidants, and hence dietary supplementation may be a beneficial therapeutic intervention in this condition. Antioxidants that have good bioavailability or molecules that have antioxidant enzyme activity may be therapies that not only protect against the direct injurious effects of oxidants, but may fundamentally alter the inflammatory events that play an important part in the pathogenesis of COPD.