Breathing Problems at High Altitudes

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Phil R
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Breathing Problems at High Altitudes

Post by Phil R » Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:28 am

I have been backpacking in the High Sierras for years, but on my most recent trip I experienced unusual shortness of breath and lung congestion for the first time. The difference between this time and previous times was that I was hiking significantly farther each day (say 8-11 miles instead of 5-6), but I noticed I ate and drank the same amount or even less compared to the shorter trips.

My theory is that I didn't eat or drink enough and it became partially dehydrated, somehow affecting my lungs/breathing.

Any other insights?

(P.S. - I went to the doctor when I got home and his theory was altitude sickness...but he is having me do a complete physical anyway just to be sure).


People are friendly at 6000 ft...and the higher you go, the friendlier they get.






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altitude

Post by cgundersen » Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:05 am

Hi Phil,
In addition to the problems your physician is looking into, other possibilities include particulates (and other aerosols) from the various fires that have been happening this year and/or allergy. I too have occasionally noticed (particularly, when pine pollen is high) that I get mild allergy-like symptoms (mostly runny/itchy nose), but it can probably extend to increased mucus secretion in the lungs. A possible "solution" there is over-the-counter antihistamines or decongestants. If you're not reluctant to take stuff like that, bring some along next time and see if they help. Or, if the drug idea sounds bad, you can try breathing through a mask, after all, the cowboys of yesteryear carried bandanas for a reason.... regardless, I hope the cure is a simple one!
CG

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Post by copeg » Sun Jul 22, 2007 9:06 am

I do get minor shortness of breath at high altitudes - usually when I don't acclimate - which go away the longer I spend up high. I have minor asthma which I blame, and sometimes will carry an albuterol inhaler which does help. Normally I have no problem with asthma and wouldn't even know I had it until my body becomes stressed. I have noticed that even when I am acclimated, I'll have minor bouts, which may be related to my diet and hydration.

KathyW

Post by KathyW » Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:17 am

Phil: I have major problems with congestion and shortness of breath at altitude, but my congestion is sinus congestion - I get terrible sinus headaches and sometimes I'm not sure if it's a sinus headache or an altitude sickness headache. If I sleep above 10,000 feet it gets worse. I have found that taking Clariton-D helps me with the congestion and allows me to breath a bit easier. I have struggled more this year too - the congestion has become chronic - not just at higher altitudes anymore. I have a doctor's appt tomorrow to see what can be done about the problem. I do wonder if it has anything to do with this polluted air we breathe.

Kathy

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Post by Phil R » Mon Jul 23, 2007 6:05 pm

Great feedback. Thanks everyone! There were fires along the eastern slopes and we could smell smoke from time-to-time. I do have some slight allergies and was packing clariton-D--which I only took occasionally and only at night.

The asthma idea bugs me because I have never had a hint of that before, but it did occur to me during one or two bouts.

Kathy - I hope things turn out OK!!!

I am going to do a day patrol in San Gorgonio next Saturday...see what happens then.
People are friendly at 6000 ft...and the higher you go, the friendlier they get.

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Post by Shawn » Mon Jul 23, 2007 6:22 pm

Phil -

Could be something you ate?

Possible causes of intrinsic asthma include respiratory irritants such as perfumes, cleaning agents, fumes, smoke and cold air, upper respiratory infections, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Intrinsic asthma tends to be less responsive to treatment than allergic asthma.


I once was diagnosed with the "GERD" variety. Oddly, there were no symptoms of the GERD itself, just shortness of breath. It is a scary thing until the doc says to just take an OTC medication until it goes away.

KathyW

Post by KathyW » Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:24 pm

Well, I had my x-rays today - they took pictures of my nose from every angle to make sure I don't have any major problems. The doctor thinks she knows what's going on and will be able to fix me up. She thinks my chronic congestions stems my body's reaction to the increased need for oxygen during my hiking and training - sorta like varicose veins but not in my legs. Hopefully, I'll be breathing better before long - I'm just hoping whatever she's planning to do to me isn't painful.

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Post by mountaineer » Mon Jul 23, 2007 10:42 pm

I have had chronic sinus problems for about 20+ years. I was getting serious(missing work type) sinus infections 7-8 times a year and a couple of times they developed into bronchitis and pneumonia. Anyway, about ten years ago I had a picture taken of my sinuses by the ENT surgeon and he said they looked like a plate of spaghetti. They should look more like an hourglass. He said they had all sorts of nooks and crannies for stuff to sit around and get infected because the sinuses weren't draining properly. I had the surgery done to scrape away parts of the bones that were putting pressure on the sinuses(I know, sounds painful doesn't it?!). The surgery lasted about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. The worst part was recovering from the anesthesia. The good part was that I never did take the painkillers they prescribed. I came out of the surgery with a string protruding from each nostril and taped to my upper lip. The doc said they were tied to the gauze packs that were stuffed up there to prevent bleeding. A few days later I went in to have them removed. Yikes!!! He started pulling on the strings and I felt something moving inside my head. He pulled 6+ inches of string out of my head before the bloody gauze popped out. Pretty weird! I still have problems but they are fewer and further between and don't get as serious.

About five years ago I got nailed with HACE on White Mtn. but am unsure if it was related to my sinus issues. A few months after that, I got nailed again at 13k on Shasta but turned around this time(unlike White Mtn) and didn't have any major ill effects.

KathyW

Post by KathyW » Wed Jul 25, 2007 10:29 am

Mountaineer - it's good that the surgery helped. Sinus problems are no fun. The doctor told me it was safe to continue take the ClaritonD when I'm hiking, so that should help me - if I'm takinging the Clariton and get a headache I'll know it's the altitude and not just my sinuses acting up.

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Post by Phil R » Sat Aug 04, 2007 11:29 am

Shawn - well, there was a slight smoke smell from the fires before we started our hike. Perhaps that was enough to start something.

Still waiting for some tests and for some results. I went on a hike last weekend up to 9200 ft. I was taking Mucinex. Seemed to do great up to 8700 ft, then slowed down a bit, but no shortness of breath.

Thanks again, everyone.
People are friendly at 6000 ft...and the higher you go, the friendlier they get.

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