While white sandy beaches make for a great vacation, some of the world’s most beautiful places exist at high altitudes. The Mayo Clinic classifies high altitude as a destination over 4,921 feet. Vacation destinations such as Machu Picchu, Peru (8,000 feet), and Lhasa, Tibet (12,000 feet) soar way above that mark, so you need to take the proper precautions to avoid getting altitude sickness.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness can impact anyone traveling from one altitude to a significantly higher one faster than their body can adapt to the lower barometric pressure and reduced oxygen levels. Symptoms are often described as mimicking an alcohol hangover: headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories, but rare severe reactions can include swelling of the brain and lungs, requiring an immediate descent to lower ground.
Preventing altitude-related symptoms
Don’t let altitude sickness ruin your vacation! Instead, follow these tips to help minimize your risk:
The absolute best way to prevent altitude sickness is to make your ascent slow and gradual. A general rule recommended by the CDC is that for every 3,300 feet you ascend, try to spend one day without going up any further. If a gradual ascent is not possible, like if you are planning to spend some time in Aspen, CO and you are coming from Los Angeles, CA, consider allowing a few days in Denver to acclimate before completing your trip. Once you are over 8,000 feet, you should move up no more than 1,000 feet per day.
Long plane flights or car rides have a dehydrating effect on most people, and dehydration can actually decrease your body’s ability to acclimate. To prepare your body, drink 2-3 liters of water per day before you travel and keep a 1 liter water bottle with you during your journey, filling up as often as possible. It’s also a good idea to cut down on caffeine and alcohol until your body adjusts.
Take it easy
Due to the body’s decreased ability to take in oxygen at high altitudes, take it slow the first few days. After you have acclimated, you can gradually build up your activity levels, but don’t push it too hard.
Since it takes the body longer to digest food at higher altitudes, watching your portion sizes is not a bad idea. Heavy meals late in the day will simply slow you down and increase your feeling of fatigue. Consider eating a hearty breakfast, snacking throughout the day, and eating a lighter dinner.
Be prepared with medication
If aspirin just isn’t helping you find relief from the symptoms of altitude sickness, then there are some prescription drugs you can take to help the body adjust. Natural supplements like ginger or ginkgo biloba may also help. For more information on altitude sickness medication, visit Travel Vaccines and Wellness Solutions and talk to our experienced team!
Have a backup plan
If you start feeling sick during your morning hike in the mountains, then your best bet is to head back down to lower ground and relax until the symptoms subside. If descending is not an available option, then make sure to sit down, rest, drink lots of water, and eat something until you feel better.