Trying to balance up the risks of climbing with the need to wear a medical alert bracelet? Concerned that your medical condition would prevent you from taking up this challenging sport?
Our best advice is to always climb within your limits and communicate with your climbing partners. There are loads of ways to enjoy this sport as long as you take good advice and only do what you are safely able to do. Your condition shouldn’t stop you from having a go. You just might need to change your approach. Consider the type of climbing you want to do (indoor / outdoor) and the equipment and bracelet safety issues.
Talk with your doctor about your condition, and explain that you are interested in taking up, or staying active in climbing. Advice from your doctor or specialist should be top of your list, but don’t be afraid to ask how you can safely do more. We are all capable of doing amazing things. We just need to adapt our approach based on our overall fitness, range of movement and medical or allergy issues.
Medical conditions that could pose a greater risk in climbing:
1) Any condition that could cause you to black out, or lose consciousness (such as Epilepsy or Diabetes / Hypoglycemia). Climbers are typically paired – one person climbing and the other one belaying (taking up slack in the dead rope to help safeguard the climber). If the climber were to lose consciousness, they are likely to fall away from the wall as their grip or stance loosens. No doubt they could suffer a scrape, or even bang their head. But the belayer should quickly become aware of the problem and lower them to safety.
*Lower your risks* – always wear a helmet and ensure that your climbing partner is aware of your condition. Their immediate action will probably be getting you to the ground safely. But knowing how to help you recover after that, or whether emergency care is needed, is important. If you have diabetes, ensure that you carry any medication or snacks that could help.
The belayer’s role is crucial to the climber’s safety. They constantly monitor the climber, act quickly to take in any slack in the rope and ensure that it remains locked off. This prevents the climber from a significant fall should they come away from the rock face. So the more serious danger with climbing is if the belayer were to lose consciousness and be unable to support and protect the climber.
*Lower your risks* – again, communication is critical. If possible, it’s worth climbing in threes, working as a team to eliminate your need to belay. Or have two of you belay in tandem on the dead rope. This provides an additional safety net for any climber and keeps everyone involved. You could also clip into a sandbag and consider using an auto-belay device. This should never replace active management of the rope, but could help in an emergency situation.
2) Any condition which could be aggravated by chalk dust. This could include severe wheezing, difficulty breathing, or an asthma attack. Powdered chalk is used by climbers to reduce moisture on their hands, thereby improving their grip – either in a climbing gym or in a natural environment. But it’s a bit messy. Although it’s contained in a bag that’s usually hung from your harness, getting your hands in and out of it can stir particles into the air, and some chalk is inevitably left behind on the holds or cracks.
*Lower your risks* – it’s difficult to avoid, so the key here is communication. If your doctor feels that it is safe for you to be in this environment, then make sure that your climbing partners know that there is an increased risk and how to help you if you need assistance. This could include getting your inhaler for you, or being aware that you have an emergency contact number on your medical bracelet.
3) Allergies or Anaphylaxis to bee stings. If you’re lucky enough to be climbing in the great outdoors, you’ll be communing first hand with nature. Most bees will not sting unless they think they are in danger, but you could inadvertently disturb a nest you haven’t seen, or put your hand where a bee has decided to rest.
*Lower your risks* – Make sure your climbing partner knows how serious your allergy is, and whether you carry an epi-pen. Emergency contact details on your bracelet could come in handy, along with a spare mobile phone battery if the reaction is severe.
How to choose the right medical alert bracelet or necklace
The two biggest dangers with wearing jewellery while climbing is the risk of it snagging (preventing you from moving your hand, or choking you) and entanglement (getting it caught in your belay device). But by choosing your medical alert bracelet or necklace carefully, you should be able to find something that blends your love of climbing with fashionable emergency protection. Our tips are:
Finally, consider what type of surface you will be climbing on. If you are face climbing or down at the local climbing gym, bracelets could be a good option. But if you are crack climbing you may prefer to hook your bracelet to your gear loop to avoid any snagging in nooks and crannies.
Stay safe, and active! Have a healthy understanding of the risks and balance this with your desire to get out there and enjoy life. And always communicate with your climbing instructor or partners! They will support your climbing and manage any emergency situations, so make sure they understand how they can help. See you at the top...
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