A Few Tips to Help Hikers with Asthma Do What They Love Safely

A woman hiker using an inhaler

One cool spring morning, you’re trekking up the seventh of ten steep switchbacks when your breathing becomes difficult. You begin wheezing and coughing, and your chest tightens. Asthma attack.

If you suffer from asthma, the likelihood is that you hike while using an inhaler prescribed by your physician (about 25 million Americans are currently diagnosed with asthma). By pausing and inhaling the drug, you should be able to resume your hike. However, what if this is your first attack or you forgot to bring your inhaler?

How Does Asthma Affect People?

A young woman is using an asthma inhaler outdoor
In these instances, attempt to ascertain the cause of the attack and eliminate the respiratory irritant. Activity-induced bronchospasm (EIB) is a condition in which strenuous exercise results in asthma attacks. Sweating, particularly in cold temperatures, causes the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes in the lungs to contract, reducing airflow. Pause to allow your breathing to return to normal.

If the air is chilly, breathe through a bandanna, Buff, or another thin material to allow the air to warm up and relax the bronchioles. Hiking with a Buff or neck gaiter around your lips can help prevent lung inflammation in the first place.

Exercise may trigger persistent asthma, but more frequently than not, allergies, a virus, air pollution, or dust particles are to blame. If you are allergic to cottonwood tree pollen, for example, stay as far away from vegetation as possible during an asthma attack.

A Few Necessary Steps

A woman during a hike
At all times, attempt to maintain your composure. Relaxation assists in opening the airway and alleviates the asthmatic reaction. Purse your lips and inhale as if you’re blowing out a candle three feet away. This can result in increased pressure in the lungs, allowing the airway to open and expel trapped air. The difficulty with severe asthma episodes is not so much with inhaling as it is with exhaling to take the next breath.

In most severe cases of respiratory distress, an epinephrine injection in the form of an EpiPen, followed by evacuation, may be essential. Avoid antihistamines; they can exacerbate airway constriction.