Asthmatic on Playa

FAQ – Asthma at Burning Man

Like most deserts, the Black Rock Desert is dry and hot. Add to that the alkaline gypsum dust that makes up this dry lake bed getting kicked up by winds and vehicle travel, late nights out, and trying to stay hydrated, and the playa has the potential to challenge the health of even a mild asthmatic.

Q. What is asthma?
A. Asthma is a condition in which the airways of the lungs become narrowed or blocked, impeding breathing

Q. What triggers asthma?
A. There are many triggers, but those you may experience on the playa are:

  • Playa dust
  • Stress (emotional, physical, lack of sleep, change in normal routine, etc)
  • Change in humidity
  • Cigarette smoke

Q. How can I control my asthma?
A. Different people respond to different remedies. For some, removing themselves from the irritant (dust, smoke, heat, etc) is enough. For others, medication is necessary. Most asthmatics respond well to inhaled medications that dilate the lung airways, while others need to take a maintenance dose of either inhaled or oral steroids every day. A peak flow meter is an inexpensive, portable way to objectively self-monitor how your lungs are handling the playa environment.

Q. Will my asthma get worse at Burning Man?
A. The vast majority of people living with asthma do just fine at Burning Man. Some will notice no difference, while others will notice a heightened sensitivity. That said, if you have a history of complications with asthma, especially if they have resulted in hospitalization and/or intubation, please talk to your doctor before deciding to come to the playa. Being prepared is the best way to cope with the possible complications and we recommend the following:

Q. What can I do to minimize asthma complications while at Burning Man?

  1. Always carry a dust mask or bandana and your inhaler(s). Bring at least one dust mask or bandana for each day you’ll be on the playa.
  2. Get plenty of rest and drink enough fluids.
  3. Check your peak flow frequently.
  4. Saline nose rinses at least once or twice per day.
  5. Minimize playa dust in your living space as much as possible. A trailer, or two layers of entry into your living space (a small tent inside a larger tent works well) helps to keep your space relatively dust free while you rest and sleep.
  6. Bring enough inhalers and/or medication to last your stay on the playa, plus one extra inhaler in case you lose one.
  7. Make campmates aware of your condition, and aware of how they could help you if you need help. It is also highly recommended that you wear a medic alert bracelet at all times.
  8. Be aware of where medical resources are at Burning Man. There is medical available at Center Camp and at both the 3:00 and the 9:00 plazas.
  9. You may find a portable humidifier or mister for your tent or trailer helpful.