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The Effects of Altitude on Lung Disease

The Effects of Altitude on Lung Disease

Traveling to high altitudes can be both exciting and scary for those that have been diagnosed with a lung disease. On one hand you want to experience the thrills of a new environment, but on the other you might feel restricted by your current condition. This is just one example of the types of problems that lung disease patients have to face constantly. If you are considering traveling by or visiting a place in higher altitudes, there might be a few things you want to consider if you have a lung disease. These are the effects of altitude on lung disease.

What Happens to Your Lung Disease at High Altitudes?

Believe it or not, you don’t have to climb to the top of Mt. Saint Helens or journey through the Smokey Mountains to experience the changes in altitude. Many people plan trips to higher altitudes without even realizing the effect that it will have on them. This point rings true with people who have been diagnosed with a lung disease. So how do you know if the high altitude is effecting you or if it is just your lung disease flaring-up? Here is what we found out.

In a study from 2006, researchers decided to see if the effects of a higher altitude had a negative or positive effect on patients that were already diagnosed with a pre-existing lung disease. After several months of studying patients with various lung diseases (asthma, COPD, emphysema, etc…), researchers learned that some patients had a much harder time acclimating to the higher altitude due to the thinner air. Some people with pre-existing lung disease also showed signs of increased symptoms and the need for more oxygen. Of course, this study does mention that more time and research is needed to test the effects of altitude on lung disease.

The Institute for Altitude Medicine also presented some interesting findings on the effects of altitude on certain lung diseases. According to the website, people with asthma actually fair better in the higher altitude. This is because of the thinner atmosphere and a lesser presence of allergens. The same is not true for COPD patients. The Institute mentions that a study done in New Mexico and Utah showed increased death rates in people with emphysema that lived in higher altitudes, stating that COPD patients do better in lower altitudes. Traveling to these higher altitudes is possible though with a little time and planning.

What Can I Do Before Traveling to Higher Altitudes?

If you are traveling by plane or going up to higher altitude with a lung disease, it is possible to enjoy the benefits of your trip. We’ve compiled a few tips to get you ready for the higher environment:

  • Know Your Destination – Evaluate where you are going ahead of time and see if your destination is in a higher climate. The website org just does that!
  • Visit Your Doctor – Obviously a no brainer, but check with your doctor before any trip. Discuss treatments and methods that will allow you to adjust better in the thinner atmosphere.
  • Be Aware – Keep track of your symptoms and any warnings that you may experience. Watch what you eat and drink to see how you react during your time in the upper altitudes. Looking out for altitude sickness is also advised.
  • Take Your Time – Take your time and adjust accordingly. It can usually take a person between 1 to 3 days to adapt to a new environment.

Lung disease doesn’t have to restrict your quality of life. If you or a loved one is interested in stem cell therapy for lung disease, then contact us at the Lung Institute to learn more or call (800) 729-3065 today.


  1. Phoebe

    5 months ago

    Hi Kimberly,

    For people with low blood oxygen levels, their doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy. Oxygen therapy helps people with low blood oxygen levels maintain a healthier amount of oxygen in their blood. All organs, tissues and cells need adequate oxygen for optimal functioning. While using oxygen therapy helps the body maintain a healthy oxygen level, it doesn’t get the blood circulating. However, having enough oxygen in the body has the potential to help the entire body work better. If you’re concerned about your oxygen levels, it’s best to talk with your doctor.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  2. Kimberly

    5 months ago

    IN a post you say oxygen is a temporary fix. That it just solves the symptoms. I would think it gets the blood CIRCULATING and helps the whole body. It would help every area of the body. I am confused by your answer.

  3. Phoebe

    5 months ago

    Hi Jeanie,

    Altitude affects people differently. Some people find living at a higher altitude better for their lungs, and others find it easier to breathe closer to sea level. The most important thing you can do is to talk with your doctor about living at a higher altitude and living at sea level, and how these different conditions may affect your breathing. Because your doctor knows you and your health situation well, he or she will be able to best guide you and answer your questions about breathing at different altitudes.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute


    5 months ago


  5. Phoebe

    6 months ago

    Hi Dave,

    Thank you for letting us know about these issues. We will let our team know and work to resolve them.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  6. Phoebe

    6 months ago

    Hi Nico,

    We’re glad you found our article helpful. We recommend talking with your respiratory therapist or pulmonologist to discuss your question about including altitude training into a person’s individualized respiratory therapy program. Your medical team knows you, health situation and your treatment program well, so they will be able to best guide you.

    Best Regards,

    The Lung Institute

  7. Nico COURT

    6 months ago

    tHANK YOU FOR YOUR EXPLICATIONS ! iT’s very clear.
    but there is something i don’t understand.
    COPD patients can be reeducated with a respiratory muscles traning. At least, they should feel same effects after a short altitude trip than one of these traning session.
    So why altitude couldn’t be part of a reeducation process ?
    Thank you for your answer.

  8. Dave

    6 months ago

    “… researchers learned that some patients had a much harder time acclimating to the higher altitude do to the thinner air.”

    A Grammatical mistake like this in a purportedly leaRned article makes us wonder about the accuracy of the information presented.

    And we also wonder why the comments field will only display in all upper case.

  9. Matt Reinstetle

    9 months ago

    Hello John,
    Thank you for your question. We’d recommend you talk with your primary doctor. He should give you some suggestions on best oxygen use practices in higher altitudes based on your condition. Thanks again and have a great day.

  10. John McAteer

    9 months ago

    I have copd and idiopathic pulmonary pybrosis do you have suggestions 2 or 3 days in th mountains of Kentucky really gets to me I am on oxy 24-7

  11. Pingback: Trips galore…on the road again. | PHightforyourrighttoparty

  12. Frank Williams

    1 year ago

    That was very helpful

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