You read this correctly. I said “altitude”. The travel season is swiftly approaching and many of my patients will be going to places with significant elevations. For patients with lung disease the altitude of the places you plan to visit are important. Here is why.
As altitude increases, the amount of oxygen in the air you are breathing goes down. The percentage of oxygen remains the same, i.e. 21% but the barometric pressure goes down as we go up. This means that 21% of a smaller number (barometric pressure) will be a smaller number (amount of oxygen). Confused? I apologize. I had to think about this twice myself. Just take my word for it, as you go up, the amount of oxygen in the air goes down.
This lowered oxygen level can cause problems for normal patients. The early symptoms include headache, nausea and dizziness. More severe conditions such as high altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) and sometimes fatal high altitude pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) may occur. If you have lung disease your oxygen level may get very low and even more so if you already use oxygen. If you plan travel to certain western states or to exotic locations, check the altitude.
Here are some examples with their oxygen percentage equivalents: Boulder, CO (17% oxygen), Machu Picchu (14% oxygen), Pikes (12.2% oxygen), Mt. Everest (6.8% oxygen). You can find charts on the internet which will provide you with, or allow you to calculate, the oxygen level at your destination.