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COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)

Mom has COPD; coming to visit me in Denver

06/09/2009

Question:

I moved to Denver 3 years ago and my mother is coming to visit me for the first time. She lives in Ohio and never has had to use oxygen. I believe she is on Spiva right now.

She would like to see the Rockies, and if we travel to Rocky Mountain National Park the altitudes on the roads reach up to 12,000 feet. My understanding is airplane cabins are pressurized to 8,000 feet.

If she does fine on the flight is it safe to assume she would be ok going to 8,000 feet? What about higher? Should she rent oxygen if we plan on going higher then 8,000 feet?

Thanks in advance!!

Answer:

Thank you for visiting NetWellness and for your question. When COPD patients ascend to high altitudes, they often report increased symptoms of shortness of breath. Minor exertion at high altitudes for people with COPD may cause earlier symptoms of shortness of breath than it would at lower altitudes.

Generally, symptoms could be managed with stopping the activity and use of bronchodilators. However, some people with COPD who do not require oxygen therapy at lower altitudes may require oxygen at higher altitudes.

A pulmonologist can help make the determination of the need for oxygen by either assessing lung function and oxygenation with exertion to see if there is a drop in oxygen with exertion, or by doing an altitude test. An altitude test simulates the decreased oxygen at altitude and could help in determining whether your mother needs oxygen for air travel or at a higher altitude.

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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