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How Altitude Impacts Your Lung Health

15 Mar 2018
| Under COPD, Lifestyle | Posted by

If you want healthier lungs, there are a number of ways to achieve that goal.

For instance, the American Lung Association states that breathing exercises “can help rid the lungs of accumulated stale air, increase oxygen levels and get the diaphragm to return to its job of helping you breathe.”

Healthline adds that quitting smoking, exercising, avoiding pollutants, and preventing infections can help as well.

But did you know that altitude also impacts your lung health?

Altitude and Lung Health

According to research published in the journal Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine, the higher your altitude, the lower the oxygen tension in the air and the lower the barometric pressure. When you’re above 2,000 meters above sea level, this type of environment is called hypobaric hypoxia.

Though most people’s lungs effectively adapt to these types of environmental conditions, those with less-healthy lungs don’t react to these conditions as well. This can lead to complications due to increased air density and humidity, and decreased temperature.

Some of the most common complications include:

  • Increased airway reactivity
  • Impaired oxygen delivery
  • Higher exposure to air pollution due to vehicle emissions and wood-burning stoves

Common High-Altitude Lung Conditions

This research also found that there are certain lung conditions that can be caused by spending time in high altitude places.

The most critical is high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), which is fluid accumulation in the lungs due to non-cardiac issues, and it can occur after spending just two days in altitudes higher than 2,500 meters.

However, pulmonary dysfunction—otherwise known as “acute mountain sickness”—tends to more common, afflicting 25 to 50 percent of people who aren’t used to being above 2,000 meters. Symptoms of this include feeling tired, dizzy, nauseous, and being unable to sleep.

Another condition related to sleeping at higher altitudes is called periodic breathing. This is a type of sleep apnea in which you quit breathing during sleep for 5 to 20 seconds. Individuals that suffer from periodic breathing also report that their sleep is less restful and lower in quality.

One Positive High-Altitude Effect

Though this may sound pretty grim, there is one positive effect of living in or traveling to higher altitudes and that is a reduction in the allergens that are known to trigger breathing issues.

For example, one piece of research found that dust mites are less prevalent in higher altitude homes, which is good news for those with allergy-related issues. It’s thought that this is due to lower humidity in the air, especially indoors due to the type of home construction necessary at higher elevation levels.

If Altitude Is Affecting Your Lung Health

Though it isn’t exactly easy to pack up your things and move, if you believe that elevation may be decreasing your lung health, it’s at least an action worth considering. Moving to a lower elevation area may help you breathe easier and reduce your risk of complications.

At a minimum, you may want to avoid vacationing in high-altitude places. This alone may help you increase your lung health by lessening your exposure to these types of issues.

If you or a loved one suffers from a chronic disease like COPD, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis or other symptoms of lung disease, the Lung Institute offers a variety of cellular treatment options. Contact us today at 888-745-6697 or fill out the form to see if you qualify for cellular therapy, and find out what cellular therapy could mean for you.

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