The official blog of the Lung Institute.
High Altitudes can be Risky for Those with COPD
For those already suffering from debilitating lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the lack of oxygen in high altitude areas can be extremely dangerous. A study published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that “Even modestly lower oxygen levels in people with already impaired breathing and gas exchange may exacerbate hypoxia and pulmonary hypertension [leading to death].” Because of this, COPD sufferers who live at higher altitudes need to take precautions such as using supplemental oxygen.
Symptoms of low oxygen levels include: shortness of breath, irritability, morning headaches or ankle swelling. Using supplemental oxygen will help prevent your heart from overworking. One particularly significant benefit of using supplemental oxygen is that it reduces a person’s shortness of breath, therefore alleviating the tiredness that comes from just walking around or exercising. Living in a high altitude area with lung disease can be very difficult for someone with COPD – but supplemental oxygen can help.
Many who previously lived at high altitudes with COPD have decided to move to areas closer to sea level where there is more oxygen in the air. Some sufferers who need supplemental oxygen at higher altitude levels have been able to significantly reduce the supplemental oxygen use at lower altitude levels. Obviously this has a significant impact on quality of life for that person.
Monitoring is Key when at High Altitudes
If you decide to live at an area with higher altitude levels, it is important to constantly monitor blood oxygen levels, or blood oxygen saturation, so that you know if you need to use supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen is generally recommended when blood oxygen saturation levels drop below 90 percent.
A press release from the University of Colorado Denver reported that, in a study conducted by professors from the School of Medicine’s Altitude Research Center, University of Colorado and Harvard School of Global Health, generally those living in areas with higher altitude levels have a longer life expectancy than those living at lower levels. However, some socio-economic factors, including, among other things, pulmonary disease, completely eliminate any benefits of living at high altitude levels. While many prefer to live in areas of higher altitude levels, there are no health benefits for those living with lung disease. The key to living a healthy, stress-free life at a high altitude is constant monitoring and symptom management.
In all actuality, living in an area with high altitude predisposes lung disease sufferers ages 65-68 for a higher mortality rate or heart failure, as reported by the European Respiratory Journal. Because of this, it is generally recommended that those with pulmonary disorders avoid living in places with high altitude.
Alternative Options for those with COPD
Life can be difficult when living with a lung disease like COPD. If you must be in an area with high altitude, constant monitoring and supplemental oxygen are instrumental for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Some patients have also seen an increased quality of life after undergoing stem cell therapy. If you or a loved one is suffering from a lung disease, contact us today at (800) 729-3065 to see if you qualify.