Asthma and Altitude: What You Should Know

Do you already live in an area with higher elevation? If so, and if your asthma is well controlled, you may find that even going up a little higher than you're used to won't cause any major strain on your respiratory system. Experts say that some people with asthma who are used to high elevations may not experience any worsening of their symptoms even if the air quality changes a little when other asthma triggers are at a minimum.

However, if your body is used to a much lower altitude, then traveling to areas of increased heights could initially cause your sensitive lungs to be more reactive as your body adjusts. In addition, if your blood oxygen level is already low because of your asthma, then relocating to a higher altitude can make this situation worse. Further, if you experience cooler air temperatures at the higher level, this can irritate your sensitive airways. The same reaction can occur when there's increased ozone in the air at higher levels. A study published in 2007 in the Archives of Disease in Childhood mentioned these as a few of the factors that can impact asthmatics at increased mountain levels. Other studies have found similar results.

Improvement Matters

This is being said, though, if you're relocating to the mountains for good, you may just find that your asthma improves overall once your body adjusts to the changes in the air. In fact, some studies that look at the symptoms of asthmatics living at high elevations present some interesting findings. For instance, research included in the Archives of Medical Research in 2001 found that asthmatics who live at higher altitudes year-round actually have reduced their risk of experiencing serious symptoms by as much as half when compared with their counterparts who live at sea level.

The researchers attribute the improvement to the fact that the air up high can contain fewer pollutants. Further, people who live at higher altitudes may have less exposure to pollen and other seasonal triggers.

What This Means

Wonder what all of this means for you? If you live at a higher altitude and it doesn't seem to bother your asthma symptoms, then luck is likely on your side. You can probably just continue taking your control medications as always and hope the trend continues.

But if you live at sea level and will be traveling to a higher elevation, you should take the time to prepare yourself as best you can for any of the possible scenarios. Talk to your doctor about what preventative steps you can take in advance to help keep yourself safe. Sometimes simply increasing your control medicine for a few weeks before you go can help you be less sensitive to changes in the air. Further, if you plan on exerting yourself outdoors by either skiing or hiking, keep in mind that the effort, coupled with colder air, can also trigger your asthma to flare so you'll need to have your fast-acting relief inhaler right on hand.




Archives of Medical Research

Archives of Disease in Childhood