The Tucson branch of the American Lung Association in Arizona held a Respiratory Rally on Feb. 19 at the West Center and gave residents with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) helpful tips and information.

Medical screenings included blood pressure checks and a finger blood test for Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) Deficiency, a hereditary condition that may result in serious lung disease in adults and/or liver disease in infants, children and adults.

The disease occurs when there is a severe lack of the AAT protein, which is mainly produced by the liver, in the blood.

The main function of AAT is to protect the lungs from inflammation caused in infection and inhaled irritants such as tobacco smoke.

Dr. John Bloom of the University of Arizona College of Medicine spoke about the effects of mining on COPD and said, “Surrounded by mines, you will have to deal with its effects... all mining contributes to air pollution.”

He explained how different pollutants in the air — including sulfur oxides from power plants, oxides and ozone from car exhausts and particulate matter from tobacco, car exhaust and dust — affect lung function by getting into the small airways of the lungs and causing inflammation and decreased lung function.

Most COPD in the U.S. is from smoking because smoking is a type of particulate matter. It’s preventable and treatable, but not fully reversible and can have systemic consequences.

Bloom also spoke about the effects of living at sea level where the air is humid vs. 3,000 feet where the air is dry.

If oxygen is an issue it’s best to be at sea level where the barometric pressure is lower.

Elevation is a big issue, he said.

Registered Respiratory Therapist and COPD expert Scott Cerreta said though COPD is not curable there are ways to manage it.

He said the differences between chronic bronchitis and emphysema is location.

“Bronchitis affects the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide take place) and emphysema affects the airways.

“COPD starts earlier than the disability. Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do... even with quitting, you never go back to normal. Know your limitations,” Cerreta said, adding non-smokers lose air function at a much slower rate than smokers.

The American Lung Association has a new COPD report-card-like management plan where the COPD patient keeps track of various symptoms to share with the physician.

Esther Szmutni and Suzanne Schinkel spoke about the benefits of Tai Chi on pulmonary rehabilitation and Paloma Beamer spoke about tools for understanding air quality and COPD.

For more information, contact the American Lung Association in Arizona at 520-323-1812 or www.BreatheEasy.Az.org.

Contact Green Valley freelance reporter Ellen Sussman at ellen2414@cox.net.