The season for traveling is upon us, the weather is warming up and traveling plans are beginning to set in motion! Traveling is one of the most exciting and enjoyable things, whether you are traveling to go see friends and family or just taking a vacation to get away. If you are a medical oxygen patient using a portable oxygen concentrator, there are a few tips to keep in mind when traveling to places with a higher elevation than what you are used too. As the altitude increases the composition of air stays the same (79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen) but the abundance of air decreases.
What I mean by this is simply that the thinness of the air is what makes it difficult to breath, this is especially felt in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD). Even people that do not have a lung disease have a difficult time breathing at first, but normally after a couple of days they are fully acclimated to the altitude. With the help of the following tips you will be able to fully enjoy your vacation getaway!
When Traveling to Higher Altitudes with Oxygen Remember:
Take it Easy, Adjust to the New Altitude
Upon your arrival to your destination be sure not to over exert yourself, and that means starting the second you land. Once the plane has parked and begun unloading you may feel the effects of the higher altitude, so if you have heavy carryons ask the people around you or the person you traveled with if they could help you retrieve your baggage from the overhead. Also if people offer their assistance don't feel ashamed to take them up on that offer, because when people are offering their assistance more times than not they are being sincere. This caution for your breathing needs to be carried out for the first few days of your trip, remember that even healthy travelers will have feelings of breathlessness once they first arrive. So take that into account plus that you are a patient with a progressive lung disease so it may take you a little longer than a few days to readjust to the thinness of the air.
Communicate with your Doctor
This is something that needs to be done before you leave for your trip and needs to be on the top of your to-do-list! Being open and honest with your doctor will assure that your treatment is as beneficial as possible and this includes telling your doctor you plan on traveling, this is especially important if traveling to places with a higher altitude than where you live. Ask your doctor if your flow requirement should be adjusted for the increase of altitude. NEVER adjust your flow amount without speaking to your respiratory specialist! The human body will automatically start adjusting itself to the altitude by increasing the thickness of red blood cells, however with COPD there may be difficulties with allowing the red blood cells to thicken. With that said be sure to keep in mind that as the body produces more red blood cells and they begin to thicken, the sensation of breathlessness may begin to die down.
Use a Pulse Oximeter
A pulse oximeter is used to measure the amount of oxygen present in your bloodstream, which is referred to as blood oxygen saturation. When you speak with your doctor they may recommend you take one of these with you on your trip and in general so you can better manage your COPD. Your doctor may assess a target value and if that target value is not reached then your doctor may tell you to adjust your flow rate to the next setting. This cannot be stressed enough, never change your flow rate without consulting with your doctor.
Now that the weather is warming back up and the season for traveling is beginning, don't be left with sensations of breathlessness during a time when you are supposed to be relaxed and happy! With the help of the previous tips your next vacation to a higher altitude can be as enjoyable as it would be without COPD.+Caleb Umstead