Avoiding Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness, is a common health issue for many visitors to Colorado, especially those coming directly from sea level. Symptoms include headache, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, and insomnia. In severe forms some people may develop a wet cough (due to pulmonary edema), unsteady walking, lack of coordination, vomiting and loss of consciousness.
mtquandaryColorado has the highest average elevation of any of the states. Those coming to Colorado to ski or hike need to remember to take it slow and let your body adjust as many of the mountains in Colorado are above 12,000 feet with over 50 mountains greater than 14,000 feet. Some towns in Colorado are also at high altitudes and insomnia can affect some visitors for the first few nights. There are some things that can be done to help reduce altitude sickness and make your trip more enjoyable.

Prevention is the best cure. If flying into Denver it isn’t a bad idea to spend the first night or two in the city, which is located at 5,280 feet, before heading up a few thousand more feet into the mountains. It’s important to take it easy the first few days. Even star athletes can suffer from altitude sickness as it affects everyone differently. Don’t hop off the plane and decide to do a 4 mile hike right away. It is also very important to stay hydrated; stick to water and cut out any alcoholic beverages.

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There are some prescription medicines that can be prescribed by a physician as well. Acetazolamide (Diamox) can be taken a day or two prior to your arrival and can help speed up the acclimatization process. Aspirin can also help reduce mild Acute Mountain Sickness.

Treatment for mild altitude sickness includes plenty of rest and fluids. It’s important to listen to your body and if you are beginning to feel severely ill the best treatment is to descend to a lower elevation and seek medical treatment, which may include being put on oxygen.

If you have any other tips on how to keep altitude sickness from ruining your trip or have any questions please let us know!