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As you go to higher altitudes, the barometric pressure decreases, the air is thinner, and less oxygen is available. The air is also dryer and the ultraviolet rays from the sun are stronger. At elevations of 8,000 feet and above, your body responds by breathing faster and more deeply, resulting in shortness of breath, especially on exertion. Some people will develop mild symptoms which include: headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, and unusual tiredness, which is referred to as acute mountain sickness or AMS. These symptoms will typically go away in a day or two. If your symptoms are severe, persist or worsen, you should consult a doctor. A short visit to a physician may save the rest of your vacation.
Here are a few helpful tips to ensure your vacation is without worry.
- Drink plenty of water prior to your visit! Maybe two to three times more than your usual intake. Hydration is key.
- If you are worried and/or have had issues in the past, try and plan to stay in Denver for one or two nights which will allow your body to gradually adapt to a higher elevation.
- If you have already arrived and notice you feel nauseous, dizzy or are experiencing headaches, try ordering oxygen or visiting a local oxygen bar.
- Eat frequent small meals high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and low in protein.
- Decrease salt intake - salt causes your body to retain fluid (edema)
- Avoid alcohol and minimize caffeine on your day of arrival (caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating)
- Use sunscreen of at least 30 spf to avoid sunburn
A more serious condition is called high altitude pulmonary edema or HAPE. This condition is recognized by a wet cough, increasing shortness of breath, and the feeling of fluid building up in your lungs. Other symptoms may include disorientation or confusion. If you feel any of these symptoms developing, you need to seek medical attention immediately. HAPE is easy to treat, but can be life threatening if left unattended.
Medications and oxygen can help you feel much better. Diamox is a prescription drug, which prevents the unpleasant symptoms for many people. Recent experience suggests that a small dose of Diamox suffices: 125 mg the morning before you are to arrive at altitude, again that evening, and each morning and night for two days after arrival. It is generally a well-tolerated medicine with few side effects. It should not be taken by anyone who is allergic to the sulfa class of medicines. Some people may experience a tingling sensation in their fingers, toes and around their mouth. You may also notice a subtle change in your sense of taste; especially carbonated beverages may taste flat. As with any medication, take only as directed and discuss any potential side effects with your physician.