Will moving to a higher elevation make my COPD worse?

Sunshine gentleman asked...

I am a 69 year old man and have COPD. I am still working and I live in Florida. I am thinking of moving to Grand Junction, CO and am wondering if the higher elevation will be a problem for me? I am not on oxygen at this time.

Expert Answer

Loutfi S. Aboussouan is a staff physician for the Cleveland Clinic's Respiratory Institute and Neurological Institute. He is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease, critical care medicine, and sleep medicine and directs the pulmonary curriculum for the second-year class of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine.

The answer depends on the severity of your COPD. The oxygen level will be lower at higher elevations, even in individuals with normal lung function, simply because of the lower barometric pressure. Since the normal lung has plenty of reserve, the oxygen at elevation may drop to a level that would still be considered normal, so it is usually not an issue. Therefore, depending on the severity of your COPD, your oxygen could be normal in Florida but below normal at a higher elevation. Whether you would then need oxygen supplementation would require an evaluation. I would not necessarily postpone your plans to move but would encourage you to discuss this with your physician. He or she may be comfortable in telling you that your COPD is not severe enough to be of concern, or recommend a simple oxygen evaluation while in Colorado.