SIOUX CITY -- If you find yourself short of breath after walking from room to room, don't be so quick to chalk it up to the process.

So says Cindy Duncan, clinical coordinator of the St. Luke's College Respiratory Care Program.

"We do lose some lung capacity as we age," Duncan admits. But that natural process shouldn't be readily noticeable in all cases.

"People do think as they get older they should get winded, or become more out of shape. It's one reason COPD is so under-diagnosed."

COPD is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. A national effort called "Drive 4 COPD" asks persons to take a short exam that features five questions. It is suggested you see your doctor to share the results.

Questions focus on shortness of breath, coughing, smoking history and age.

Unfortunately, it is reported that many patients with COPD have lost up to half their lung function prior to diagnosis. The sooner one is identified, the sooner a plan of attack or management can be implemented.

"In the last several years there has been a big push as so many are under-diagnosed," Duncan repeats. "The quicker you get diagnosed, the quicker you can get on medications or go through pulmonary rehabilitation or stop smoking."

Asthma, Duncan says, often goes latent for years. It seems to disappear in many individuals with the onset of puberty, only to reappear later in life.

Medication can often hold asthma at bay by reversing the obstruction.

Emphysema, on the other hand, is permanent. Alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency is an inherited form of emphysema. Children born with it can develop liver and lung problems.

Here's how it happens: When an infection occurs in your lungs, white blood cells travel to the lungs to fight if off. Elastic fibers form, which break up the elastic properties of your airwaves. Normally, Alpha 1 in the body helps smooth out these elastics and block them from causing damage to the lungs.

"Someone with Alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency is not able to block elastics and damage is done to the liver and the lungs," Duncan says.

How does it reveal itself symptomatically? "It's like any obstructive lung disease," Duncan says. "There is shortness of breath, coughing of sputum and not being able to do your normal activities like walking across a room."

Duncan asks that those with any family history of emphysema be checked for Alpha 1 anti-trypsin deficiency. The testing is easy and can be done at home. Ask your family practice physician for a testing kit from St. Luke's College in Sioux City or the Alpha Center of Salt Lake City, Utah.

The test involves a finger poke and four small drops of blood placed on litmus paper.