Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide and a significant challenge for adult physicians. However, there is a misconception that COPD is a disease of only adult smokers. There is a growing body of evidence to support the hypothesis that chronic respiratory diseases such as COPD have their origins in early life. In particular, adverse maternal factors will interact with the environment in a susceptible host promoting altered lung growth and development antenatally and in early childhood. Subsequent lung injury and further gene-environment interactions may result in permanent lung injury manifest by airway obstruction predisposing to COPD. This review will discuss the currently available data regarding risk factors in early life and their role in determining the COPD phenotype.
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