How to Minimise the Effects of Altitude Sickness
What is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness is caused by the reduction in oxygen in the air the further above sea level that you go.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
There are varying symptoms dependent on the severity of reaction.
- Shortness of breath, particularly when exercising
- Headaches that you struggle to get rid of
- Nausea and / or vomiting
- Nose bleeds
- Fuzzy head, almost a drunken feeling
How Altitude Sickness Can Affect your Travels
We realised that it had more of an impact on our travels than we originally thought. The impact could be any or all of the following,
- Inability to do much in the first few days at high altitude
- Reduction in appetite
- Lower tolerance to alcohol (much lower!)
- Inability to complete treks or hikes at high altitude
- Hospitalisation, in a severe cases
What to Do to Minimise the Impact of Altitude Sickness
There are a number of things that you can do minimise the impact of altitude sickness, but there is no apparent reason why some people suffer more than others. It is not based at all on your fitness level.
Prior to ascending to a higher altitude, there are steps that you can take that may help you to adapt.
- Prescription altitude sickness tablets, like Diamox. These should be taken with full knowledge of the possible side effects. Some people find the side effects worse than their altitude sickness. It should also be noted that these drugs do not stop the shortness of breath but should improve the headaches and any vomiting caused by altitude sickness.
- Chlorophyll tablets. This is a holistic remedy that is supposed to increase your red blood cell count meaning that your body can use oxygen more effectively.
- Move slowly up to the high altitude over a period of a number of days. This is not always possible if flying into a place, but your body would adapt better if you do.
Once you arrive in your high altitude destination there are more things that you can do to minimise your reaction.
- Drink a lot of water to remain hydrated.
- If in South America, drink Mata de Coca (coca tea) or chew coca leaves (I preferred the tea!). This is readily available in places like Cusco for the Inca Trail.
- Do not drink alcohol in your first few days, as you will find that it affects you much more than usual and the hangover will be 4 times worse!
- Take a few days to rest and relax before undertaking any hikes or strenuous exercise, even if you are very fit.
- I found that my sinuses got blocked so I’d recommend taking something that helps with this as it’s even harder to get oxygen into your body.
Finally, if you are on a trek and finding the altitude hard, keep taking breaks and concentrate on taking one step at a time. You can do it, maybe just slowly! I shuffled the last part of the Rainbow Mountain hike!
Make sure that your guide knows so that they can watch to ensure that you do not get worse and give you oxygen if needed. Severe altitude sickness is serious; you may need hospitalisation so don’t just keep your feelings to yourself.
Read our blogs about our experiences at high altitude in Quito, Cusco and on high altitude hikes on Rainbow Mountain and the Inca Trail, by following the links below.
I hope this article helps you out, let us know if you have any other tips or comments below.