In my last blog I shared some info on air pollution and the effect it has on lung disease. And also what you can do yourself to offset the effects of air pollution on your lungs. Luckily there are things that you can do yourself (click here if you missed this blog and want to find out what these things are).
There might be times though that you want to take your lungs out for a real treat and away from air pollution all together. Well then, where do you go?! The ocean and the mountains are mentioned most of the time in relation to lung treatment. But why is that? What is it about mountain air and crisp sea breeze that our lungs seem to like so much? Let´s look into that a bit more…
Let´s start with the ocean….
One of the things that´s so nice about sea air is that it is almost completely free from harmful vapours, exhaust fumes and soot particles. That´s great news, cause these are major irritants of your lungs. Sea vs. city 1-0.
Then, there´s a lot of writing out there that lung patients should be spending time by the sea because of the surf-generated aerosols (droplets of water enriched with salt, iodine, magnesium and trace elements). These are said to stimulate immune reactions by the respiratory organs and a period of inhalation would result in loosening of the mucus in the respiratory tracts (this makes coughing easier and helps clear airways).
These claims are all very nice, but is there also some scientific proof concerning the healing properties of the sea and it´s air?
Bring on the proof!
Well, I couldn´t find a lot of research on this topic. But the research that I found does suggest so…
This study for example has found that there are therapeutic qualities to ocean air that have helped lung disease patients. The study tested patients with a variety of lung diseases to see if there was a common improvement in symptoms. While patient results were on an individual basis, these were some of the more common results from patients that breathed in the ocean air:
⦁ Thinner mucus
⦁ Improved lung function
⦁ Reduced coughing
⦁ Decreased sinus pressure
Not bad! The evidence might not be conclusive (yet), but it seems understandable that our lungs like it out there by the sea.
How about mountain air?!
It´s being said that mountain air is generally beneficial to people with a lung condition, but especially with (allergic) asthma. I can report first hand that that holds indeed true (at least to me), but how can it be explained?
⦁ Just as by the sea, the air is usually cleaner in the mountains, meaning less air pollution. And, as said, this is a well know irritant for people who have asthma (and in fact all other lung conditions)
⦁ High-altitude exposure increases your lung diffusing capacity. Lung diffusing capacity has to do with the transfer from gas to air in your lungs. Read more about this here.
⦁ Then, and this is why the mountain air is especially interesting for those people out there who suffer from allergic asthma, at high altitude there are way fewer allergens. Dust mites, for example, don´t survive at high altitude. But you also won´t find aspergillus fumigatus (a fungal allergen that bothers quite a few asthma patients, including me) at high altitude. And this study shows that high altitude allergen avoidance benefits people with moderate to severe asthma even if they take high dose inhaled steroids.
So, the higher the better?!
Well, yes and no….
The higher you go the better off you are in terms of allergens. Generally speaking you´ll find more allergens at 900 meters than at 2000 meters. So in that regard ‘yes’. But it is important to note that high altitude is not necessarily good for everyone suffering from a lung disease. It can indeed be very beneficial to those with (allergic) asthma, but COPD patients for example do better in lower altitudes. And also, some people (even the ones with asthma) can have a harder time acclimatizing to higher altitude due to the thinner air. It´s hard to say what altitude is ideal for everyone, because that also depends on what still feels comfortable on a personal level. I would at least try to go above a 1000 meters to benefit from the clean air and benefit from a very low level of allergens such as for example dust mites. If you can easily handle that, then try to go up even higher.