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Traveling to high altitudes can be exciting and scary for those diagnosed with a lung disease. On one hand you want to experience the thrills of a new environment, but on the other hand 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, you might want to consider a few things 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 plan trips to higher altitudes without even realizing the effect 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 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. This website 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 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.
Christine Kingsley, APRN is the Health and Wellness Director at the Lung Institute where she focuses on providing helpful online resources for people looking for information on various lung diseases, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices. She advocates for holistic care that involves working with your doctor to explore all options including traditional and alternative care while focusing on diet and exercise as proactive measures.