It is not only intrepid trekkers who climb to Mt. Everest base camp and scale Kilimanjaro that suffer from altitude sickness.
Neither is it limited to skiers that carve up on high alpine terrain. Visitors to cities like La Paz, Bolivia or Santa Fe, New Mexico, have been known to experience this ailment.
Like jet lag and sunstroke, altitude sickness is an unwelcome ailment that can hinder the enjoyment of one’s vacation.
Fortunately there are some measures that can be taken prior to traveling and during your trip to combat it. If you plan to go mountain high on your holiday, then be sure to know how to deal with altitude sickness.
The Big Q: What Is Altitude Sickness?
The Big A: Altitude sickness is the body’s way of reacting to a lack of oxygen at high elevations where the air is thinner.
Statistics state that roughly 25% of people will experience it when moving from a sea level location to heights of 9,000 ft, sometimes less. I got it at 12,000 ft and never went that high again,
Typically, you will notice an increase in breathing and a sensation of being short of breath, which can make simple tasks like walking up a street a genuine challenge.
You might experience one of a several symptoms including stomach pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and weariness.
There are 3 different types of altitude sickness to be aware of.
- Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the most common form and is associated with the aforementioned symptoms. A full recovery is usual within 24 to 72 hrs.
- High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is rare, but can be life threatening and leads to a severe increase of fluid in the braid. Dizziness, disorientation, and blurry vision are common and immediate descent is the sole treatment.
- High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)is when excess fluid builds up in the lungs. It’s most frequently associated with people at higher elevations, but is potentially fatal and can affect even well-trained athletes. Anyone that suffers from this should descend and receive oxygen treatment.
It is important to stay well hydrated before you depart, so aim for a daily consumption of 2-3 liters of water. Dehydration reduces the body’s capacity to acclimatize to altitudes. If you are a coffee drinker, then the goods news is that you should keep drinking cups of Java. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are similar to those of altitude sickness and any caffeine in your system can ease altitude-associated pain.
You will want to be at your peak physical condition when embarking on a cloud-breaking adventure. If you have a cough or cold, quarantine yourself at home until you feel better. Your lungs will already be working overtime, so any lingering infection will make things worse. When the time comes to depart, be sure to pack plenty of snacks. Beef jerky and oat, chocolate, or fruit and nut bars are excellent options since they’re light to carry.
A scientific study at Stanford University also found that taking ibuprofen can decrease the chances of altitude sickness. Acetazolamide is another medicine believed to help the cause.
Upon arrival, avoid the excitement of rushing around to see things right away. Acclimatization is Key to combating sickness, so take it easy for a couple of days and refrain from overexertion. Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol.
Go with the climb high, sleep low philosophy.
This means acclimatizing by reaching high altitudes during the day and then spending the night at lower, more oxygenated areas.
If your trip brings you to South America then try the ancient Andean tradition of chewing coco leaves and drinking coco leaf tea. The non-addictive leaves were sacred to the Incas and are considered to be a vital source of energy and nourishment. You will find them being offered to trekkers in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Should all this still not be enough, consider investing in home altitude systems. Today it is possible to install everything from altitude masks to tents and generators in your home to train.
Remember that we adapt at different speeds. It is important to listen to your body and your traveling companions. If 1 of you is not comfortable, then take an extra day or 2 in order to get to the same level of enjoyment.
Enjoy your travels