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.