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Beautiful hiking trail with inhaler shaped geyser blocking the path so that hikers must go around it

Considering Outdoor Asthma Triggers on a Roadtrip

My partner and I love going on road trips to beautiful places in the mountains and the forest. We are very outdoorsy people, and find ourselves taking trips on many weekends. My partner has asthma, and normally it is not an issue when we are out hiking, rock climbing, and camping. However, there are factors while traveling through different areas that could be a trigger or affect his already flared up lungs. The factors that have the most effect on him are elevation gain, climate, and pollen as common outdoor asthma triggers.

Our road trip

For our last anniversary, we decided to take a road trip up to Lake Tahoe in California. My partner caught a cold the day before we left for the week long trip. The cold quickly spread into his sinuses and lungs. When he gets sick, even with just a common cold, it frequently will spread into his lungs, and this can lead to an asthma attack.

We almost decided to head back home on our way up, but decided to go ahead with the plan. He had a wheeze in his lungs, and breathing was difficult with the mucus build up from the cold. He had to take frequent hits of his inhaler and purchase a decongestant to combat the outdoor asthma triggers. The drive up was difficult, but we tried to be optimistic.

We took the trip day by day and tried not to have definite, set plans for activities we would do on the trip. If he woke up feeling pretty awful, we would hang out by the lake, and maybe go on a few walks. If he had periods of being able to breathe better and less sinus pressure, we would do some light rock climbing and hiking.

Outdoor asthma triggers

Elevation

As I said before, we love going to the mountains. The biggest challenge my partner faces here is the higher elevation. He’s normally fine being active in higher elevation, but if he is already sick or flared up this can definitely be an issue. The dry air in higher elevation can dry out your sinuses very easily. Since there’s less oxygen at higher elevations, it can be harder to breathe for anyone. For someone with asthma, this can be dangerous given the elevation is an outdoor asthma trigger.

Lake Tahoe is 6,200 feet in elevation, so he had his inhaler at all times. When we reached Lake Tahoe, coming from San Diego, he could definitely feel the elevation change.  We made sure to not do hikes that rose in elevation, and opted for some activities that were less strenuous. We did some mellow hikes, rented stand up paddleboards, and visited some hot springs! If you are traveling to somewhere higher in elevation, give yourself 1-2 days to acclimate to the elevation gain. Make sure to stay hydrated, and drink extra water if you are also consuming alcohol and coffee.

Pollen

Luckily on our anniversary trip, pollen wasn’t much of an issue. We went during July, so it wasn’t the season for his intense pollen allergies. When you’re on a road trip though, you could be passing through different counties, states or even countries! You could be encountering a wide variety of pollens that your body is unfamiliar with and this can be considered an outdoor asthma trigger. This is something to remember and plan for before taking off on a trip. Do your research, and bring whatever you use to manage pollen allergies.

Climate

Just like pollen, you could be exposed to drastically different climates depending on whatever county, state, or country you are traveling through. On a road trip, you could easily be in a dry, hot desert environment, and then be in a cold, wet, mountain air the next day. Be mindful of where you’re traveling to, and for how long. If you’re going to be in a climate that is a trigger for you, plan on doing fewer activities and taking care of your body. In climates that work better for your body, allocate more time here for sightseeing and activities.

Dealing with a flare-up due to outdoor asthma triggers

If your travel partner is having a hard time on the trip, make sure to bring their favorite road trip snack. My partner personally likes really good sourdough bread and a quality cup of coffee. If he has to take a hit of his inhaler first thing in the morning, we make it a priority to go to a coffee shop and a local bakery. Little things like this can help make a flare-up in the middle of a trip bearable.

If my partner is flared up or has an asthma attack on a trip, he feels guilty and tries to apologize for his asthma. If your significant other, friend, or family member is flared up or has an asthma attack during a trip, assure them it is absolutely not their fault. Asthma does not follow a schedule, and asthma attacks and flare-ups can strike at the most inconvenient times. All road trips seemingly have some sort of “bump in the road” like common asthma outdoor triggers, but asthma does not need to be the obstacle that turns you around!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Curtis R. Outdoor Action Guide to High Altitude: Acclimatization and Illnesses. Outdoor Action Program. https://www.princeton.edu/~oa/safety/altitude.html, 1998.  Accessed October 21, 2019

Comments

  • Shellzoo
    2 weeks ago

    I usually travel to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for camping, hiking and such. It is fairly remote and sparse there so it is important to know where the hospitals and urgent care places are located and have enough first aid supplies in case you need to drive a bit for urgent care. I have avoided mishaps myself but have seen others who have needed urgent care so I carry my little emergency kit with me at all times. I have a little pouch that holds 2 rescue inhalers, EpiPens, liquid Benadryl tablets and my allergy cocktail (3 meds my doctor has me take for bad allergy flare-ups). I also keep a portable pulse-ox with me. I also keep a water bottle with me so I don’t get dehydrated. I do plan ahead for just in case.

  • aleqmiller moderator
    2 weeks ago

    Hi there, Shellzoo. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with us. That is great that you are well prepared and carry an emergency kit with you. Planning ahead is essential when you are taking on outdoor activites like camping or hiking. We appreciate you being a part of this community. Happy hiking, Aleq (Asthma.net Team Member).

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