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I think the first thing we need to tackle is the high-altitude. I don’t care if you’re asthmatic or not, high-altitude can be very difficult to overcome. I saw a guy who was pretty comfortable with hiking in elevation and extremely fit keel over and almost vomit from elevation sickness. The key here is to make sure you’re hydrated and have food in your stomach. Some of the side effects include not having an appetite and if you’ve noticed you’re not hungry while you’re 11,000 feet in the sky (elevation of Cusco), then you might be experiencing altitude sickness. That said, how does this affect your lungs?
!!WARNING ABOUT TO DROP SOME BORING KNOWLEDGE BOMBS!!
Normally, transfer of oxygen is facilitated by the transfer of oxygen molecules and carbon dioxide molecules from a high-pressure gradient to a low-pressure gradient via the respiratory membrane. In other words, the partial pressure in the lungs and the surrounding environment causes the oxygen to be naturally forced from the alveoli of the lungs into the red blood cells.
This is because the pressure gradient in the lungs is higher than the pressure gradient in the arteries. Processes in the body tend to move in the path of least resistance. Well, the higher in elevation you get away from the sea level, the lower the air pressure becomes. The oxygen is less dense at higher elevations because gravity pulls the majority of the oxygen molecules toward sea level. As a result, at higher elevations, less oxygen is available to be transported to the bodies tissues. For an asthmatic, this can be a big issue.
A symptomatic asthmatic naturally has less oxygen in the body. Asthma is a condition that causes inflammation to the bronchioles. The bronchioles are tubes in the lungs responsible for transporting oxygen to the lungs. For an asthmatic, this is a problem as oxygen cannot be transferred to the red blood cells, thus decreasing oxygen availability to the body. As a result, the bronchioles can swell, constricting the ability of oxygen to be transferred through the body.
Knowledge bomb complete
My first night in Cusco is always the worst night ever, I vividly remember one night feeling as if I had a 5-pound weight on my chest while to breathing. I’m not trying to scare you now, I only want you to understand what the acclimation period can feel like. Once you get past 48 hours of being in high elevation, life gets much easier. However, each hour that passes your body is adjusting, so it’s not a constant struggle. My recommendation, the day you fly into Cusco, spend two full days just getting used to the elevation. Do not do a strenuous hike or tour. We offer two low-impact tours that are very relaxing the Cusco City Tour and the Sacred Valley Tour.
The second thing I’d like to touch on is asthma itself and you know your own body. Only you know your limits and what your pink little lungs can take. When I first got diagnosed with asthma I was told football and sports were out of the question; no way I could do sports. Well, clearly that isn’t the case; I went all through high school and college playing sports, plus I continue to stay very active. I’m not sure why the doctor told me this but either way, my body disagrees 100% with that statement.
I think the real question here is this: is your asthma is under control? If you experience an asthma attack once a month, that’s probably a sign it’s not under control. I experience tightness in my lungs from time to time, but I can’t remember the last time I had a legitimate attack. It makes me really sad to think about people who have asthma and aren’t properly treated and experience attacks often due to this. If you’ve had an attack, it’s terrifying and it leaves you thinking you’re going to die. So with that said, if you’re having frequent attacks, I think it’s best to get a physical from your family physician for the sake of getting your asthma under control, regardless of a trip to the Andes Mountains. If you feel your asthma is under control and once in a blue moon need a rescue inhaler (maybe before a workout), I’d say you’re safe to venture to Machu Picchu.
This is primarily here to explain how you will have a much more pleasurable experience in Cusco/ Machu Picchu if you’re physically active in some way and your lungs/heart are conditioned. I have met plenty of people who have been to Peru and haven’t worked out in years. Did they have a hard time?
Sure, here and there, but ultimately, this depends on how you want your journey to play out. Before I did the Inca Trail, I trained specifically for hiking. At Machu Picchu, you will do some hiking even be if very minimal, you will walk up stairs, and you will go up slopes. No way around that folks. If you’re fit, it’s going to make the walking easier and if you’re not well, it’s going to be more difficult. I would advise that if you’re booking your trip to Peru 6 months out, which I hope is what you have done in the first place, and you currently aren’t active at all, to just go out and do some long hiking. It will help a lot once in Peru.
So there you have it. The short answer is YES; you can travel to Machu Picchu if you have asthma. Now, how you enjoy it is up to you. Take some time to digest everything above and see if Machu Picchu is right for you. Keep in mind that the elevation in Aguas Calientes is roughly 6,693 feet above sea level and the elevation at Machu Picchu is 7,972 so it’s a quite a bit less than Cusco City (11,152).
Once you’re set in Cusco for a couple days, those two areas will seem like a stroll in the park. I wish you the very best on your journey to Machu Picchu and I hope your asthma doesn’t slow you down in the slightest. If you want to support what we’re doing, make sure to book a trip with us at Cachi! Here is a link to our Machu Picchu page. Also, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, feel free to drop them below or shoot us an email in the form!