High Altitude and Asthma
Last updated: May 2023
Recently, we took a trip to Moab, Utah, to hike in Arches National Park and see the world-famous Delicate Arch. The elevation is a little over 4,000 feet which is about the same altitude of where I live, but that altitude can still cause problems for some people.
In fact, we had a friend traveling with us from Australia and we kept checking on her to make sure she was okay with the change in altitude. Some people (even if they don't have asthma) have a hard time at higher elevations and can experience altitude sickness. When you have asthma, it can be harder to breathe at higher altitudes.
Asthma triggers: Altitude, exercise, and more
I had a tough time that day. With asthma, there can be a lot of things added together that make it hard to breathe. The first thing that happened was our hotel room. I'm not sure what set off my asthma, but I woke up during the night sneezing and coughing and my chest was tight. So, I started off the day with a couple of puffs of Albuterol.
Then we headed to Arches National Park to hike to Delicate Arch. The trail is 3 miles round trip, and it is pretty steep. It was very hot too – almost 90 degrees that day (heat is another asthma trigger). We had lots of water, and were dressed appropriately, but I was not sure if I could make it up the trail.
Off we went – but I only made it about a fourth of the way. I stopped to try and catch my breath and have some water, but quickly realized that I shouldn't continue on. Since exercise is another asthma trigger.
At first, I was frustrated. I had prepared well and even brought hiking sticks to help me up the steep parts of the trail. But I knew that starting out the day with tight lungs from a dusty hotel room, being in the heat, and hiking a steep trail was probably not a good mix.
So, our friends and family continued on up the trail. I started back down the trail to wait in the car. I had a long trail back to the car to think. As I hiked alone back to the car, I saw a vulture circling overhead! If I wasn't so tired, it would have been funny! Did I look that bad trying to hike back down the trail? The vulture was out of luck because I was going to make it back to the car!
When you realize, you need to stop
I had lots of time to reflect on my decision (that's the problem with hiking – you usually go further than you realize and then have to hike all the way back). When I crested the last hill, I could see the parking lot and was so glad I had decided not to finish the hike.
I realized that instead of being disappointed, I should be glad my body let me go that far up the trail. And I listened to my body! Normally I would have pushed through the hike – because who wants to be the weak person that has to drop out of an activity?
But this time, I listened to my body. And I respected it for how well it had held up. My lungs can only take so much, and a dusty hotel room, hot temperatures, and high elevation had overwhelmed them.
Listen to your body
Be careful in high elevations and don't be afraid to slow down if your asthma is flaring up. After all, we only have one set of lungs. So we need to take care of them and they will take care of us.
Has laughter ever triggered your asthma?