Asthma in the Outdoors

Asthma can often become an anxiety provoking illness when in the outdoors. With proper prevention, and the right medication, one can continue to enjoy outdoor activities whether your asthma is exertional or allergy induced. Follow up with your Primary Care Provider to assess what stage you are at and what inhalers are best for you before going on your outdoor adventure.

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For the purpose of Survive Outdoors we will limit information to a basic overview, treatment and prevention.

Asthma origin is Greek and means “short of breath.” It is a spasm of the bronchial tree, the main breathing apparatus that delivers oxygen to your lungs. When the bronchioles and smaller breathing tubes spasm and become inflamed, one will wheeze, cough and have difficulty breathing. This difficulty of breathing can lead to a full-blown panic attack as it can be very frightening when one is short of breath. Now, imagine that is occurring when miles from help on a hiking trail or on an extended camping trip. Being prepared by knowing one has asthma is of crucial importance. There are two main types of Asthma: 1.) Exertion-induced or exercise-induced and 2.) Allergen-induced.

Asthma Triggers

Asthma Action Plan and Prevention

The American Academy of Family Practice has come up with an Action Plan which is coded by the colors of a stoplight.



There are two types of inhalers (MDI) metered dose inhalers and (DPI) Dry powder inhalers. Well over 50% of patients do not use their inhalers correctly. This is due to not being taught correctly from the beginning or they know how but feel it is too cumbersome to carry the spacer or aero chamber. A spacer or aero chamber holds the medicine from the inhaler allowing you to breath it in more efficiently. By using only the inhaler on your lips, the majority of the medicine sticks to the roof of your mouth or the back of your throat, never reaching your lungs. Ask your healthcare provider or nurse about your technique the next time you are at their office.


A machine that takes the liquid medicine and is mixed with normal saline making a mist that is easily inhaled. This would not be practical on a hike but can be carried in a car for car camping and if you have a small power source like a Jackery or other small generator you are in good shape.


A mainstay of Asthma exacerbation and has a high success rate of helping one through an attack. Be advised- when one is a diabetic, steroids can increase glucose levels. Also, remember there are two main categories of steroids. Catabolic steroids like prednisone and Anabolic steroids which are those that athletes take to build muscle. Steroids often get a bad reputation due to some common side effects such as feeling flushed, insomnia and increased appetite. A small price to pay to be able to breathe and enjoy your camping or hiking event.

There are other treatment interventions, however, those go beyond the scope of Survive Outdoors.

Often, when I treat Asthmatics, I am prescribing the above meds and will write a script for some of these meds to take on their trip so they are prepared should they have an attack.