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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

COPD and High Altitudes

06/04/2009

Question:

I have been diagnosed with the beginning stages of copd and do no have medical insurance. Through a lot of exercise and vitamins I am able to do most activities without losing my breath. I walk a mile and a half fast, do a lot of breathing exercises combined with breathing exercises and can climb a flight of stairs. We are going on a driving trip through some pretty high mountains in Colorado. Will I be okay driving or riding along and mild walking? If I have a problem breathing, what do I do? We`re leaving next week. Thanks so much.

Answer:

Thank you for visiting NetWellness and for your question. Although it is not possible to provide specific information on your case, you may find the following information helpful in knowing what to expect. 

When COPD patients ascend to high altitudes, they often report increased symptoms of shortness of breath. For people with normal lungs or mild disease, this would likely not be noticeable at rest. With mild COPD, minor exertion, like mild walking may cause earlier symptoms of shortness of breath then it would at lower altitudes. Generally, symptoms could be managed with stopping the activity and use of bronchodilators. However, some people with COPD that do not require oxygen therapy at lower altitudes may require oxygen at higher altitudes for symptoms. This can be assessed by doing an altitude test.

For more information:

Go to the COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Michael E Ezzie, MD Michael E Ezzie, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University