If your plans include traveling to high-altitude conditions, one thing to remember is to be knowledgeable about altitude sickness – just in case. Mountain destinations, such as Aspen, have less oxygen than cities at sea level, and sometimes visitors can feel “ill” due to the altitude change. Symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, headaches, diminished appetite and overall physical fatigue. This week, our blog team looks at tips to prevent altitude sickness as well as a few possible remedies should you begin to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness.
First off, most people do not feel the effects of altitude sickness. It is not related to age, gender or fitness level. Those who do suffer the effects of altitude sickness can be categorized under two types – mild and severe. Those who travel to moderate altitudes – such as Denver at 5,280 feet above sea level – may experience altitude sickness conditions for a day or two as the body adjusts. Mild sufferers may experience symptoms similar to the flu.
Travelers who look to go to high altitudes, such as 14,000 feet, are more at risk for severe altitude sickness. (Severe sickness is not common under 8,000 feet.) High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a progressive breathlessness sensation attributed to dilated blood vessels in the lungs that is often recognized by its signature “frothy” cough. If not treated, fluid can fill the lungs and potentially cause heart failure. People with conditions such as asthma are more susceptible to HAPE. High altitude cerebra edema (HACE) is similar, although it affects the blood vessels in the brain, which can lead to dangerous brain swelling.
Should you or someone in your group begin to feel the effects of altitude sickness, here are some important tips:
Don’t Push It. Take it slow and do not exert too much energy the first day. Listen to your body!
Drink Water. Drink as much water as you can. Fluids will help the body adjust. Stay away from alcohol or caffeine. Mix one-half water with one-half Gatorade for added electrolytes. Aspen has a great public water supply, and bottled water is available at several locations around town. Try for 3-4 quarts per day!
Eat Right. Eat light carbs such as pasta, and stay away from “heavier” foods.
Descend. Going down in altitude 1,000 or 2,000 feet may help the body return to normal. Remember to not ascend again until you are 100 percent better! When you do ascend, avoid increasing by more than 1,000 feet per day, so your body can adjust.
Meds, Part 1. Taking an anti-inflammatory like Aleve or Advil may help with the discomfort and headaches. Do not take sleeping pills.
Meds, Part 2. Diamox is a medication that treats and prevents symptoms of altitude sickness. It works by regulating the carbon dioxide in the blood, increasing ventilation.
Meds, Part 3. Gingko has been known to enhance circulation, which means more oxygen in your body. Studies show taking a gingko extract can be effective if taken one day before arrival, but is more effective if taken five days prior.