I was caught by surprise on a recent trip to Santa Fe New Mexico. Despite the relaxation, great hikes, and fresh air, I wasn’t sleeping well, and felt a little nauseous at bedtime, along with a slight headache. I was “off.”
Too bad I realized too late that Santa Fe is 7,000 feet above sea level! Who knew?
Altitude sickness had set in. About 20% of use get some symptoms of altitude sickness between 6300 and 9,700 feet above sea level. My doctor told me that people with low blood pressure are even more susceptible… (I’m no MD, but after thinking about it, it makes sense – need to get oxygen flowing stronger!)
Since it will soon be time to book ski trips over the holidays, I want to remind everyone how altitude sickness can creep up on you, and cast a little haze on your trip if you are not careful… especially if you ski in the higher elevations.
Symptoms of altitude sickness are similar to a severe hangover: insomnia, nausea or vomiting, or light headedness. To prevent it head on, make sure you stay hydrated – more water vapor from the lungs is lost at higher altitudes. Try and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Give yourself time to acclimate before exerting yourself on a hike or something….
If you start exhibiting more serious signs of altitude sickness like excessive vomiting, fever, loss of consciousness, make sure to seek medical attention. This is especially true if you are climbing higher than 10,000 feet – they say you shouldn’t climb higher than 300 feet a day at that level.
If you have a pre-existing heart condition you should see your doctor prior to the trip.
There IS medication to prevent altitude sickness. I know that I am susceptible because 3 out of 5 trips to Aspen I have gotten altitude sickness (listen up skiers).
So when I was invited to go to Peru for work, a place on my bucket list, I didn’t want my trip to be compromised because I didn’t feel 100%. My doctor prescribed Diamox. I took it a few days before my trip so my body could get used to it, and I felt great even at 11,000 feet.
I went with a tour group, Adventures by Disney, and I must say that many people on my trip who did not take Diamox, got sick – including my own family. I was very happy to be on it and wasn’t affected by altitude at all. Some countries, like Peru, offer coca leaves to help… I can’t say that it helped anyone on my trip.
My recommendation would be to check with your doctor – especially when it comes to medicating your children with anything. I found that the kids adjusted better than adults – maybe a stomach ache for a few hours, and then they were fine.
Don’t let a high trip get you down – be prepared