Monday, August 13, 2012
Climbing high altitudes with asthma
I live in a high altitude location, it's about 5,000 feet above sea level. I'm used to it, but many people who visit here have a hard time.
Our friend recently scaled Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) in Alaska. This is one of those climbs that takes 3 weeks and requires you to stop at different elevations along the way and to let your body adjust. Since the peak of Denali is at 20,000 feet, the altitude causes a lot of problems. Our friend was telling us how hard it is to breathe during the climb. He said even the smallest chore was difficult and he would have to stop and try to catch his breath. At one point, he was trying to cut a small block of snow that he would use to stack up and create a wall (to block the wind.) He was having such a hard time breathing that he could only saw the snow three times with his knife, before having to stop. He was so exhausted and low on oxygen that he gave up and huddled in his tent.
I wondered what it would be like to hike an elevation that high with asthma. I know all too well how hard it is to breathe during an asthma attack. But add altitude plus cold wind temperatures (a trigger for me) and I wouldn't make it out of the airplane that drops the climbers off at the base camp!
Do inhalers even work at that altitude and temperature? Do they freeze? What do climbers do that have asthma?
The website LiveStrong has a section on climbing with high altitude. Besides hyperventilating, you can experience Acute Mountain Sickness and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema. To read more about those conditions, click here.
You may not be scaling a 20,000 foot mountain, but if you are climbing something smaller this summer check with your doctor. Especially if you live in a low altitude area. He may have a different way of treating your asthma if you are visiting high altitudes. We only have one set of lungs, and we need to take care of them. After all, we have a lot of years left and they need to keep us alive!