Is It Worth Moving to a Different Altitude to Relieve the Symptoms of COPD?

2 thoughts on “Is It Worth Moving to a Different Altitude to Relieve the Symptoms of COPD?

  1. Alfred Bergbauer says:

    I suffer from COPD and scarring of lung tissue caused by Scleroderma. I live in PA and am considering a visit to Longmont CO which has an altitude of 1529. Not sure if this presents a potential breathing problem.

    1. PERF says:

      Dear Alfred,

      How wise of you to consider this potential problem when you are suffering from the double whammy of both COPD and scleroderma! There are several things that need to be considered. First, make an appointment with your pulmonologist to discuss the extent of your current lung problem, blood oxygen level and ability to tolerate higher altitudes. Ask for copies of your last pulmonary function test and arterial blood gasses to take with you on your trip. If necessary he or she can do a high altitude test to see how your body and oxygen levels react to various levels of altitude.

      While an altitude of 1,520 ft probably would not cause a problem, there are several other factors involved. I assume you currently live substantially below that level? Are you planning to fly or to drive? When you fly, the pressure inside the airplane can be as low as that seen at 10,000 ft (but usually at about 8,000 ft) for part of the flight. You might check with the airline, if you are flying, to see how long you would be at that attitude. Will you need supplemental oxygen for that short time of high elevation or can you maintain an adequate oxygen level with good pursed lip breathing (PLB)? Your doctor needs to help you decide that. Do you have an oximeter to check your oxygen levels and have you been taught PLB? Both would greatly help. When you get to your destination you also need to consider if you will be driving around, since much of beautiful Colorado is at a much higher altitude. Denver, for instance, is over 5,000 ft.

      I suggest you check the articles in our website under Chronic Respiratory Disease 101 for information on breathing techniques, altitude, oximeters etc. all of which could be of interest to you. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to give you a simple answer, as you might have hoped, but I hope I have provided enough information to keep you out of trouble and help you enjoy a great visit. Feel free to ask any more questions you may think of after seeing your pulmonologist.

      Good luck, and best wishes for a wonderful trip,

      ~ Mary Burns, RN, BS
      (Ret) Assistant Clinical Professor, School of Nursing, UCLA

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