Asthma Mom’s Rules for Moving to Higher Altitudes

After I moved to the Colorado Front Range, I spent our first year keeping a wary eye out for the thin air to trigger my kid. AG did get sick all the time during her first full winter, but I’m fairly certain that’s a reflection of her exposure to new germs in a new place.

Why am I sure? Because A) we all spent our first Colorado winter unusually sick and none of the rest of us have asthma, and B) the child hikes like a fiend, at much higher altitudes than just the roughly 5,280 feet where we live.

What’s really interesting: I’m pretty sure my sea-level to mile-high adjustment was much rougher than my asthma kid’s. Her lungs adapted beautifully.

At any rate, whether you have bronchospastic lungs or not, moving to a place like the Denver area is a whole other kettle of fish than the hot and humid Gulf Coast where I spent 20 years.

If you ever make a similar move yourself:

1. Expect Thirst
And I mean, all the time.

I drink a lot of water, always have, but the first couple of weeks after moving here, I simply couldn’t get enough in me to keep my throat wet. Mornings, I sounded like a cat coughing up a hairball. At this altitude, the air is much drier than you think. I never leave the house without my water bottle and, if the girls are with me, one for each of them, too.

2. Expect Fatigue
Adjusting to life at this higher altitude can seriously wear you out, too.

All my life and even as a kid, I’ve slept lightly. My poor parents spent hours trying desperately to rock me to bed as an infant while my twin brother slept soundly. For a full year after I moved to Colorado, though, I slept better and went to bed far earlier than I have my whole life, probably.

They say it takes 6 months to a year – depending on which “they” you talk to – to adjust completely to this mile high life, and I’d say that’s about right.

3. Expect Major Red Meat Cravings
What vegetarians and vegans do when they move to a place like Denver, I do not know, because for a good six months after leaving Florida, I wanted steak with a side of hamburgers for dinner practically every night.

At higher altitudes, less oxygen is available to us in the air, so our bodies acclimatize by producing more red blood cells. This phenomenon actually explains why U.S. Olympic teams train in Colorado; when the athletes move back down to regular altitudes to compete, they have more red bloods cells and greater lung capacity than they would had they trained at sea level.

If your body is going to make more red blood cells, it will need more iron, and lots of people report red meat cravings when they come out here to ski or climb or – like me – to live. (Although elevations above 6,500 feet require special consideration.)

There are plant sources of iron out there, but my own Denver cravings were carnivorous to the extreme.

4. Expect and Preempt Flares by Scheduling a Lung Check-up Before the Move
We’re lucky that our Florida-to-Colorado relocation didn’t trigger AG, but clearly we had no idea that would happen.

With any big lifestyle transition in climate and geography, an evaluation of lung function beforehand is always going to be a good idea.

62 responses to “Asthma Mom’s Rules for Moving to Higher Altitudes”

  1. Elisheva says:

    Wow! That’s fascinating! I had no idea about any of that! Over here you never leave the house without a waterbottle but that’s cuz you’re always sweating. I crave meat a lot of the time too tho I doubt that has anything to do with altitudes. I always thought I was craving protein but maybe I’m craving iron instead?

  2. Amy says:

    Maybe – if it’s red meat that you’re craving, you actually could have low iron levels!

  3. Rachel says:

    I am so glad I stumbled across this website! We are actually considering a move because my toddler’s allergy induced asthma is so bad here, and we have seriously been considering the Denver/Aurora area (due to my husband’s job). Do you think it was a good change for your daughter? My little one is just one years old, but has already had several asthma attacks with hospitalizations and many more very close to hospitalization episodes, and we are looking to get away from the allergens that cause them (in her case a lot of the tree pollen around here in Oklahoma, and other things, but mostly trees). The doctor told me that there is a chance that she could “outgrow” the worst part of it, but she said that would be a few years at the least, and we just don’t know how long we can let her constantly be triggered into an asthma attack. We have vacationed many times before we had her in Colorado, and my brother lived there for several years, so I know the trees that are her triggers are not there really, which is why I want to move there (and it is close to Oklahoma, during the worst of the allergy season this year, we considered moving to Alaska for a while but it was too far, however when you are up every night with your child gasping for breath, Alaska looks like a good option), the only thing that worried me was the elevation factor. My husband and older daughters also have horrible allergies, and they have never had problems with allergies in Colorado, which is why we have hope she will do well there. I have seen many websites say that the elevation around 5300-5400 ft was actually better for children with allergy induced asthma, but I wondered if first hand if you really noticed it or not for your daughter’s asthma. Other than winter, how is your daughter adapting? Would you say better than the humid environment or a lot worse since it is so dry and high?
    Thanks!

  4. Amy says:

    Hi Rachel, and thanks for stopping by & commenting.
    If you visit that very first link in the post, you can read pretty much the whole process of moving to Colorado and how it affected my daughter. But here’s the short version: the high altitude and dry air doesn’t seem to bother her at all, and her health has basically remained the same. (She doesn’t have allergic asthma.)

    I did want to mention, though – doctors don’t generally recommend moving to improve allergies or asthma, since people with those sensitivities may have a good year or two after moving, but they often go on to develop allergies to the new substances wherever they’ve moved. We actually moved to Denver b/c we love the area and an opportunity opened up, not because of my daughter’s asthma.

    Which is not to say don’t move here, either. As I’m sure you know, because of the altitude here, mold and dust mites aren’t really an issue the way they are in places with higher humidity.

    On a non-health note, I’ve loved Colorado pretty much from the day we moved here. It’s a fantastic place to live – good luck with your decision!

  5. Rachel says:

    Thank you Amy! I did miss that link,it was very helpful to me.
    My husband is looking at relocating for his job anyways, so it wouldn’t be just for my daughter’s allergies and asthma, but moving to a place where it is better for them is our ideal situation. Honestly at this point, if I could get a good year anywhere with her, I would move there anyways. We have also always loved Colorado, and always thought we would end up living in Colorado Springs, however a job opportunity has come up in the Aurora area for my husband, which is why it is now a real possibility for us.
    Thanks again for your help!

  6. Amy says:

    Sure thing. If you have any more questions about the area, please feel free to ask. I’m not an expert and not terribly familiar with the Aurora area at all, but I’ve lived here about a year and a half now.

  7. Courtney says:

    Wow. I never knew that. Thanks for sharing.

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