Half Dome – Yosemite Musing

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This guest blog is provided by Dr. Anthony Deutsch, MD, The Asthma and Allergy Center of Athens 

         If you have asthma and want to go hiking, there are things you need to consider. But before we go into that, let’s go over some asthma basics. Asthma is reversible obstructive airways disease. The obstruction is caused by two things, airway muscle constriction and inflammation in the airways. Things that trigger this obstruction may vary from individual to individual. Allergies, respiratory tract infections, sinus disease, stomach reflux, irritants (smoke, air pollution, strong odors, etc.), exercise and even food allergies can trigger symptoms.

     Asthmatics usually know the things that are likely to set them off. Exercise causes the rapid movement of air up and down the airways which may cause wheezing. This tends to be worse with cold dry air. Running causes more rapid air movement than bicycling. That is why cross country runners have more difficulty than cyclists or swimmers. They also tend to be worse in winter environments. Before you hike, make sure your asthma is stable. If your asthma has been acting up, wait until it is stable before you hike. Stay on all of your maintenance medications and make sure you have been taking them weeks before your hike. Make sure you take your “rescue” inhaler, and it doesn’t hurt to have a spare. If you always wheeze when you hike, you might want to consider warm-up periods before exercise can be a big help. Start off slowly and take your time. 

    Hiking is not a race. If you begin to have problems, slow your pace. Take frequent rest stops. If the air is cold, try to breathe thru your nose or wear a scarf over your face so you are re-breathing some of the warm, humid air you are exhaling. Cold air asthma exercise masks are useful.  Make sure you drink lots of water. Failing to do this is the biggest mistake hikers make, and it is double trouble for asthmatics. If you don’t have to urinate periodically, you aren’t drinking enough.  Finally, if you begin to have problems, STOP. Use your medications and take a long rest until things are well under control. Don’t force it. Let your friends know about your problem. If you don’t feel right, don’t do it. Slowly go back down. There will always be another day.   

    Editor comment: Speaking of noses…did you know that of all animals, bears have the strongest sense of smell. Try to stay upwind of Yosemite’s  bears. A dog’s sense of smell is 100 times stronger than a human, while a bear’s sense of smell is 7 times stronger than a bloodhound or 2,100 times stronger than that of a human. Don’t think they can’t find your hidden candy bar. 

Unrelated thought worth quoting: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

*MrHalfDome – Rick Deutsch –


4 Responses to “Azma”

  1. Maureen Lahiff Says:

    thanks for this piece!

    does hiking at higher altitudes, say 8,000 ft or 10,000 ft off Tioga Road, have any impact for those with asthma?

    (I’m asking for one of my sisters, not myself,)

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      Higher altitudes may cause faster breathing of usually cooler air. The rapid movement of cold air through the airways can cause bronchospasm, or asthma symptoms. This may or may not be a problem, depending on how severe the persons asthma is. The use of a “cold air” mask or scarf over the face allows you to re-breathe some of the warm air you exhale with the cooler air and this usually causes less problems. Make sure to stay on the baseline asthma medications and take a rescue inhaler. Check with you doctor about you condition before you go if you want to be on the safe side.

    • mrhalfdome Says:

      It’s best for your friend to consult her doctor. 10,000 feet could be problematic. Each person is different.

  2. Brad formsma Says:

    I have 4 tickets for half dome aug 18 and need 3 for the 17th
    My cell is 616-437-3787

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