Editor’s Note: High-Clip is following the format of WebMD articles in an effort to distill an experience commonly referred to as “climber’s white lung” or CWL (not to be confused with white lung/white lung cancer). This format is used to present this experience in an easily readable manner.
What is CWL?
CWL is when one’s lungs is lined with climbing chalk. Although it is not an actual condition like black lung or white lung, CWL can still cause some discomfort and lead to fits of coughing.
With CWL, a person may have symptoms including:
- Excessive coughing
- Dry, scratchy throat
- Chalk about the nose or mouth
- Strong chalk smell
- Incessant promising that they will never use chalk again
Generally, CWL is accidentally caused by the climber it affects. Most often, they drop their chalk bag or close it too fast, causing the chalk near the top of the bag to jump into the air and into the climber’s lungs. Sometimes, however, this can affect other nearby climbers, causing everyone close to the white cloud to scatter away before developing this condition. Lastly, this CWL can occur when climbers try to send too hard. Holds can have loads of chalk on them, and there are times when a climber’s nose/mouth is right above a hold, so when they take a deep breath to make the next move, they get a lung full of chalk instead of air.
CWL has no real definition, so if you feel like you inhaled a bit too much chalk, you can diagnose yourself with CWL. Generally any discomfort followed by breathing in chalk is attributed to CWL.
Anecdotally, some fresh air and some water will do the trick. Most of the treatment for CWL is preventative: keep a healthy distance from chalk bags (yours or others’), consider using a chalk ball, breathe slowly on the wall, etc.
Rock climbing is a dangerous sport. People can develop minor to serious (even fatal) injuries through accidents, negligence, or overuse. While most people recover within seconds to minutes from CWL, there’s a chance in the future scientists will take a look into climbers’ lungs and find that CWL is actually real and causes problems for people. TBD! Stay safe out there!