Hiking with Asthma

When I was young I had something called “Exercise-induced Asthma”. Asthma triggered by physical activities. I would notice in gym class, my breath was seemingly knocked out of me, without any logical explanation. The same would happen sometimes if I were to laugh excessively about something. It was an uncomfortable and terrifying experience, but fortunately, I got examined by a doctor quickly and received medicine to treat the issue. I used my inhaler before any practice. I only had this for about 1.5-2 years before the problem disappeared, which apparently is common when growing up.

Words and Images by Alice Asplund

After those two years, my physical activities returned to normal, without any strain. And having asthma was quickly a distant memory. 

What is Asthma? It is a disease that affects your lungs. It is, unfortunately, one of the most common long-term diseases of children and adults. Asthma causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and for some, coughing at night or early in the morning.  

The narrow airways in the lungs become inflamed and swell up, so it’s hard to breathe.  Asthma can occur for many reasons. For example; from particles in the air, such as dust, dust mite, pollen, animal hair or air pollution. Other factors may be the cold, exercise or even from coming down with the flu.  

The last 3-4 years, I’ve felt “heavy” when doing physical activities, especially in winter when it is very cold outside, but somehow, I’ve always felt better when spring comes around.  

It didn’t really occur to me before a really hot summer day in 2020, I was about to traverse “Romsdalseggen” in Åndalsnes. The hike is about 10.8 kilometers, with a 1051-meter elevation. 

I had spent the night sleeping outside in “Venjedalen” and I had a good night’s sleep, though my body still felt “heavy” and weird. 

I decided to set out on my hike nonetheless, I assumed the energy would return to my body as soon as I got the machinery working.

“Only a few meters up the hill my fingers suddenly started to swell excessively. I was suddenly the owner of 10 bratwurst sausages.”

My body became even heavier, every step of the way, every meter was a struggle. It was hard to breathe.  I spent a long time moving at a snail’s pace, when I got to the mountain ridge I stopped, enjoying the spectacle of Rauma and the beautiful nature of Åndalsnes, realizing I needed to rest.  

I had to rest for over an hour to recover. Luckily for me, there was no wind, and the sun was at its peak. It was a perfect resting place. I did, however, decide to abort my hike, and return to “Venjedalen”. 

My body did not feel like my own, I was trapped in a 90-year-old overweight body. I stumbled my way down the mountain, carrying my arms over my head, hoping for the blood to leave my sausage fingers, though at no luck. 

When I got down, I immediately contacted my doctor and booked an appointment as soon as possible. His immediate thoughts were related to the heart, due to my swollen fingers. 

So, I was quickly shuffled along to a cardiologist. He did not find anything wrong with my heart.  

Since everything was okay in the eyes of the doctors, I didn’t really think much about this, figuring it was a one-time experience.  

Early November in 2020, after a blazing round of covid in the winter, I was about to try jogging in the morning.  

I started the jog easy, warming up as best I could. But I could feel something was severely wrong. My throat and chest started clogging up and it was hard to breathe. At the same time, my chest was making high pitch noises. I’ve never heard this before.  

Again, I contacted my doctor, and asked specifically for someone with experience with asthma, as this reminded me of when I was younger. I didn’t want this to inhibit my activities during the coming winter. 

After waiting half a year for the right kind of specialists, I finally got the tests I needed. Breath-tests, running-tests and allergy tests. The results were clear, the asthma had returned.

“But this time it was not just exercise-induced asthma. And it was not just passing by. The asthma had come to stay.”

I was relieved and disappointed. Relieved because I finally know what had felt so wrong all this time, why my breathing had been so heavy, why my lungs had been hurting so much. 

Disappointed because this specific disease interrupts some of the activities I love the most, but also because I needed to use medicine for this illness for the rest of my life.  

I use one inhaler to function in my everyday life, one is for the morning, one is for the evening. I also have separate inhalers for sports and more intense activities. One contains, for example, cortisone, specifically aimed at reducing the inflammation in my lungs. The other is a rapid working inhalator that is used 10-15 minutes before any taxing activities of my lungs. 

On this picture, Alice is wearing the falketind down750 Vest

To take control over my own health, listening to my body now makes life easier so I can enjoy and function better during the activities I love. But how is it really to be active and hike with a lung disease.  

I always pack two effective asthma inhalers when I’m going out.  

This inhalator does not have any way to track how many doses are left, so the only way is to test-fire and check if there is anything left. This is why I always carry two. I have strategic pockets and zippers on my jackets and on my backpacks to keep them easy to reach and close by.  

At the very beginning, when I found out I had this illness, I often forgot to bring them with me. Maybe I used one when I got into the car, then forgot about it completely by the time we were out the door. I’ve managed hikes without, but I then become extremely cautious. I know how bad it can feel, and I don’t want to experience that again. Having a seizure on a mountaintop, with no immediate help is something that is imperative for myself or my traveling companions to never experience.  

“Breathing is so important and natural for us humans. The feeling of having that taken away can be terrifying and paralyzing.”

On social media it’s easy to look sporty and healthy. But you usually don’t have sound on the photos or videos you post, most people add music.  

If I ever used the original sound from my trips, I bet you there would be a lot of panting and wheezing from my end.  

Bad and clogged airways have led to a lot of weird noises by yours truly when I am hiking, something that is hidden in most social media posts. 

I often get comments that I am athletic and sporty, but I’ve never really felt that way.  Since my body has been working against me, feeling so heavy all these years, I’ve never been able to agree with these nice comments.  

But I’ve pushed through nonetheless, I’ve been able to get up mountaintops in the summer and the winter. All that changes is speed, sometimes I need a slower pace to be able to summit.  

I’ve often felt like a drag when I’m hiking with others, and I try to keep up as best I can, but this usually just means I take more time to recuperate and the hike as a whole becomes taxing and unpleasant. But, I’ve always thought it was because of bad cardio. 

On this picture, Alice is wearing the falketind down750 Hood

Before I knew I had asthma, I always thought the limit in these scenarios was me. To fix this, I needed to be more athletic, have better cardio. I ended up setting barricades for myself because I thought my body was just not built for it, it couldn’t handle the toll of these hikes, and it felt impossible. 

When I finally knew what these painful symptoms were, my mindset changed. The tests we did at the pulmonologist showed that I was actually in very good shape, that the only reason I felt so limited was because of the asthma.  

With the medication I feel like I dare explore more, to keep on pushing for more mountain peaks and summits. I’m so happy I get to experience hikes in both summer heat and biting winter cold.  

No respiratory disease is going to stop me and my future hiking adventures! 

About Alice

Alice is a Norwegian “outfluencer” whose main goal is to inspire others to get out into nature and try new activities to achieve better self-esteem. She does different activities, though her main sports are splitboarding, hiking with her dog-buddy Aria, climbing and trail biking. 

Follow Alice on Instagram

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