An Asthmatic's Guide To High Altitude In Peru


Before setting off to Peru I was nervous about hiking at such high altitude. I had read about other people's experience of struggling to breathe and feeling nauseous. So how was I going to cope as an asthmatic? I tried googling for answers and searching the internet but found very little information that was of any help.

Everyone's asthma is different, and everyone's body reacts differently to altitude. I would describe my asthma as manageable, with the occasional asthma attack when I come into contact with something I'm allergic to.

I'm here to tell you hiking at altitude with asthma is possible! I managed a three day hike through the mountains, reaching the highest point of 4,750 metres above sea level! It definitely wasn't easy, but it also wasn't as difficult as I'd imagined.

Here are my tips for hiking as an asthmatic:

1. Speak to your doctor before your trip
As with any concerns about your health, go and speak to your doctor. I'd recommend asking for advice a couple of months before your trip to see what they recommend. My doctor prescribed me some steroid tablets in case of emergencies for severe asthma attacks, as well as altitude sickness medication. Everyone's asthma is different and it's so important to get medical advice tailored specifically to your medical history.

2. Take your inhaler
It sounds so obvious doesn't it?! In the month or so before your trip, be sure to start getting on top of your asthma medication. Seek advice from your doctor regarding how you can make sure your lungs are in the best shape. I took my steroid (brown) inhaler every day whilst away and for a few weeks leading up to my trip to make sure I was as healthy as possible. I also packed my emergency (blue) inhaler but never needed to use it during my hike.

3. Acclimatise
One of the best things you can do is acclimatise! Spending a few days in a city in high altitude before you do any hiking will really help you. I spent several days around Lake Titicaca and then Cusco before doing the three day Lares Trek.

4. Drink coca tea 
The local people will swear by chewing coca leaves to relieve altitude sickness! I choose to drink coca tea instead of chewing the leaves and would drink around 2-3 cups a day. It definitely tastes better than it smells, so don't let that put you off.

5. Altitude sickness medication
Some people on my trip to Peru took medication for altitude, and others didn't. In fact, the majority of people didn't take medication and they were fine. After weighing up the pros and cons with my doctor I took a test dose whilst I was still at home and decided to take the medication during my trip.

6. Drink lots of water and go at your own pace
This is just sensible advice for anyone hiking! However, at high altitude it's even more important to stay hydrated. Just remember that the hike isn't a race and it doesn't matter how long it takes you to complete each day.

Note: I'm not a medical professional in any way, shape, or form, and these are just the tips that helped me and my asthma. Everyone is different and you should seek advice from your doctor.

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