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Altitude Sickness Prevention

Altitude sickness prevention is important for all mountain travelers. Altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), occurs when a person’s body is struggling to adapt to high altitude. Altitude sickness symptoms are diverse, but oftentimes unmistakable, especially in newcomers to higher elevations, typically above 7,500 feet. The thinner air at altitude is a major cause of altitude sickness.

Altitude Sickness Symptoms

High altitude effects can range from the very mild to life threatening. Mild symptoms include: fatigue, headache, dehydration, difficulty sleeping and general unease. Many people liken altitude sickness to feeling ‘hung over’ from alcohol. This is why it’s always a good idea to take it easy on the alcohol when vacationing at high altitude.

More severe altitude sickness symptoms that require immediate medical treatment and getting to a lower elevation include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, and elevated blood pressure.

Most symptoms of elevation sickness can be prevented or minimized by staying hydrated, getting rest and taking it easy when first arriving at altitude.

Be able to recognize and treat the symptoms of high altitude sickness early are the keys to a positive outcome.

Who needs altitude sickness prevention?

  • People traveling to elevations above 5000 feet
  • People who have had altitude sickness in the past
  • Athletes who want to perform their best at altitude
  • People who are more fatigued at altitude
  • People who feel ‘hung over’ at altitude
  • Those prone to dehydration

Prevention & Treatment

The higher and faster you go to altitude, the greater risk you are for high altitude effects and high altitude sickness.

Here are a few easy steps for altitude sickness prevention:

1. Consider staying a night at an elevation that is 1/2 or ¾ of your final destination altitude, to let your body adapt.

2. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption. It will just make your elevation sickness worse.

3. Stay hydrated. This is super important! The best way to stay hydrated is by using a drink containing electrolytes and energy boosters. Find a drink that contains only natural ingredients and a combination of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.

4. More serious symptoms of altitude sickess include coughing, severe headache, vision changes and difficulty breathing. These require emergency treatment and may be signs of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which are more rare in Colorado but can happen at much higher elevations.

For those of you that are interested, here’s a detailed article about training at altitude. 

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