Preventing Altitude Sickness in Colorado

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Welcome to ThinkVail – we hope you find this article about preventing altitude sickness in Colorado helpful.

The town of Vail, Colorado lies at an elevation of 8,150 ft. above sea level and the ski mountain soars to its highest elevation of 11,570 feet above sea level. For people coming to Vail from much lower altitudes, this radical change in air pressure can present itself as altitude sickness.

If you are planning on visiting or are already here, this article will help with preventing altitude sickness while in Colorado.


See Also: Altitude Sickness Remedies to Buy


Preventing Altitude Sickness


What is Altitude Sickness

When you’re at a high altitude, there is reduced air pressure because the air gets thinner and there is much less oxygen in the air. This means you inhale less Oxygen per usual breathe as you ascend higher and higher. So altitude sickness occurs because of a lack of oxygen caused by going too high, too fast.

Your body will try to compensate for this by breathing more deeply or more quickly

Altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a condition that is triggered at altitudes of 6,000 feet above sea level and higher. According to the Institute for Altitude Medicine, between 15-40% of visitors in Colorado sleeping above 8,000 feet get altitude sickness.

Anyone can get altitude sickness, although it is believed that people with underlying heart and lung issues are more prone to it. Also, if you have had altitude sickness in the past, you are likely to get it again.

Altitude sickness can become acute mountain sickness, which includes cerebral edema (HACE) or pulmonary edema (HAPE), both of which can be life-threatening. But this is very rare.

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Altitude Sickness Symptoms

Altitude sickness symptoms usually set in quickly, within the first few hours of arriving at altitude and up to 72 hours after arriving. High altitude effects includes:

  • headache
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • severe coughing
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Symptoms will intensify as you go up in elevation and dissipate as you go down in elevation


Altitude Sickness Prevention

  • Hydration: If you can, start drinking more water a day or two before you arrive at altitude. Once you arrive drink LOTS of (H2O). Staying hydrated is the first line of defense against altitude sickness.
  • Acclimation: Go up in increments, allowing the body time to adjust to each level before moving up to the next. If someone from Florida or Texas goes directly to Vail, they are more likely to develop altitude sickness than if they acclimate more slowly, by stopping in Denver or Colorado Springs for a night first. About 24 hours should be sufficient.
  • Exertion: Limit your level of exertion on the first day while your body is acclimating, plan to start skiing your second day, not your first. Also, get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid sedatives: avoid sedatives, such as benzodiazepine. The effects of some drugs, such as, tranquilizers are greatly increased at higher altitudes
  • Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol binds oxygen and water and robs your body of these two important nutrients. Avoid overindulging in alcohol during the first 24 to 48 hours. Hangovers will be much more intense
  • Travel with a companion. If someone begins to experience severe symptoms get them to a lower altitude quickly.
  • Watch children– Young children can also be affected by this. Be careful, keep your eye on your kids and look out for symptoms in them as well.
  • Go down in elevation: Most symptoms clear up with 1-3 days if they become severe or persist longer speak with a doctor or go down in elevation immediately and symptoms will go away.
  • Doctor prescribed medication: If you’re prone to Acute Mountain Sickness, you can also see a doctor and start taking Diamox® 24 hours prior to arrival to avoid unnecessary suffering.

Altitude Sickness Remedies

  • Oxygen: inhaling a bottle of Oxygen can alleviate mild symptoms or renting an oxygen machine for more severe symptoms could be an option.
  • Altitude Adjustment herbal supplement: Many people swear by natural remedies and supplements and report that they reduce symptoms or prevent them from occurring
  • Medication: Diamox®, Dexamethasone and Acetazolamide are available medications that doctors can give to patients at high risk. Discuss with a physician first.
  • Food: Carbohydrates require less oxygen for metabolism and digestion than fats and protein. Foods high in Potassium can also help reduce symptoms. Remember, altitude can trigger a lack of appetite, causing people to consume a lot less. It is vital to eat plenty of food, as people burn more calories at high altitude even at rest.

How to Treat Altitude Sickness

Symptoms usually clear up on their own within six to 48 hours. Rest, relax and take Ibuprofen for the headaches. Drink lots of water and eat foods high in Potassium, like bananas. In most cases, just doing this will make symptoms go away.

Portable oxygen canisters will help speed your recovery. If you’re new to a high altitude area, it’s not a bad idea to buy a portable can of oxygen to have with you on your trip.

RentOxygen
is a local company that rents and delivers oxygen machines and supplemental oxygen to help your body transition from sea level to altitude in the comfort of your hotel or while you sleep.

If the symptoms continue or are severe, descending to a lower altitude will help.

If nothing seems to be working after a day, the symptoms are getting worse, or you begin to have severe symptoms like slurred speech or impaired motor skills, head to a doctor right away.


When to Call the Doctor?

There is a reason why altitude sickness should be taken very seriously – the symptoms can turn deadly.

When symptoms aren’t improving, a doctor can prescribe medications to help you feel better. This medication increases your body’s ability to breath so your blood can absorb more oxygen. This should solve all of your issues.

In very rare cases, you could be suffering from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Both of these serious conditions start out as altitude sickness or occur alongside it, and, without immediate attention, can be fatal.

Both have very noticeable symptoms.

People suffering from HACE will be confused, have trouble speaking, slurring, be extreme lethargic, and have trouble walking.

People with HAPE will struggle for breath even at rest. Weakness and a cough accompany HAPE.

Both conditions require immediate descent and oxygen or the victim can die within 24 hours or less. HAPE is quicker. However, do not be frightened, these typically only occur at altitudes over 13,000 feet, and in very low numbers, so just be aware and take precautions.

In the Vail Valley, there is a mobile physician’s service that can come to your condo or hotel room if you are concerned about your symptoms. It is called Alpine Mobile Physicians.

Other medical facilities include Vail Health in Vail, Colorado Mountain Medical in Avon and the Urgent Care in Avon.


Check out this video about Altitude Sickness from the Denver Post


This article should not be considered as official medical advice,it is merely a guide. Check with your doctor before heading to high altitudes. Altitude sickness can be severe and should be taken seriously.


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Comments 

Have you ever suffered from altitude sickness? How do you prevent altitude sickness when traveling to Colorado?  What works best for you?  We would love to hear your thoughts and comments.



Related Articles: Navigating Vail Ski Mountain


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  • I am attending my daughter's wedding this summer in Vail, Colorado.  I am 66 years old and I have a heart condition and I have sometimes experienced altitude symptoms in the past.  I am absolutely attending this wedding but want to know what precautions I should take to minimize my risk?  Do you have any recommendations or advice?

    • Hi Clement, congratulations on your daughter's wedding! Yes, I do have some advice for you.  First, if possible, I would try to drive to Vail as this would take about 2 days from Texas to Colorado and I might take an extra day or so with the intention of taking your time so your body can slowly and naturally adjust to the change in elevation.  Drinks lots of water along your journey and stay very hydrated during your entire stay at altitude.  Next I would bring a fingertip blood oxygen monitor so you can stay on top of how much oxygen is in your blood at all times.  You may want to bring your own Oxygen machine just in case, as supplemental oxygen can relieve most mild high altitude symptoms.  Also get acquainted with where the nearest doctor is to your hotel or if needed, contact Alpine Mobile Physicians as they will come to you. I hope you have a healthy, symptom-free celebration for your daughter's big day.

  • Hi! Thanks for helping us Vail visitors out with the altitude sickness issue. I come to Colorado quite often and being from California (basically sea level) I sometimes feel the effects of high altitudes. I thought my altitude sickness was a bit more of an anomaly. Realizing that 15-40% of folks from low altitudes get it makes me feel a bit better.

    I usually just don't sleep and get some pretty bad headaches. Once in a while I'll get nausea but I can't tell if that's usually the hangover from hitting the alcohol and then the slopes a little too hard or if it's the altitude. In the future I will make a point of drinking more water and maybe go less "vacation mode" when skiing at elevation.

    I usually dive right into skiing as well, so it's a great suggestion waiting until day 2. That would probably save me a bit of soreness on day 2 also! I appreciate the tips and maybe next time I can avoid getting sick... It really does ruin a solid ski trip.

  • Thanks for your post, this has been so helpful as I hadn't even considered altitude sickness in our preparations. Now that I've read it, it seems obvious but it had not occurred to me. We'll definitely build acclimation into our schedule to try and minimise the risk, thank you for that excellent tip. And we'll also limit our exertion on the first day. Our first day we'll use to have a look around your beautiful city. Would you have a family friendly recommendation for something to do on our first day that is relaxing and fun?

    • Hi Melissa, I am so glad to bring this to your attention so you can take a day to acclimatize and hopefully avoid any chance of altitude sickness. If you are visiting  Denver  I recommend the Butterfly Pavilion, Denver Children's Museum, Water World and the Denver Natural History Museum. But there is just a ton of great things to do in Denver, so have fun!

  • OK, so I have been at altitude for little less than 6 hours and I have a pounding headache, incredibly thirsty, unbelievably tired, having a hard time breathing when I go up stairs and don't want to do much more then sit on the couch.  The concierge at our hotel said it was altitude sickness.  I have never even heard of altitude sickness so I got online to investigate and found your post.  Thank you so much for the information.  I am now practically chugging water, took an ibuprofen, drinking orange juice (because its high in Potassium) and planning on going to bed early in the hopes that I will wake up more acclimated and feeling better. Thank you for putting a name on my malaise along with some helpful remedies. I thought I had gotten the flu and was looking forward to being sick the whole trip.

    • Hi Shaunna, I am so sorry you are suffering and I hope you get over your altitude sickness quickly.  You are doing all the right things and you will hopefully feel better very soon.  Keep in mind if your symptoms worsen or last longer than 72 hours please contact a doctor t make sure it is not a more serious condition. Good luck.

  • Lots of great information in here about how to stay safe. We get the occasional altitude sickness case at my urgent care center in Denver, either from after-effects and complications resulting even after coming down out of the mountains, as well as the out-of-towner who maybe had a couple drinks or hits of marijuana and end up getting acutely sick. Take this risk seriously, especially if you're unaccustomed to being at higher elevations. Once you've been at altitude for a few weeks, your lung capacity will expand and help you compensate somewhat.

    • Thank you Nurse Joann for your comments. I am sure you have seen it all when it comes to altitude sickness as a nurse at the Denver Urgent Care! And thank you for pointing out that now that marijuana is legal, many people are partaking of it while on vacation. Smoking or ingesting weed at altitude amplifies its effects and will make you feel higher, but, not necessarily in a good way. So when traveling at altitude make sure you wait a couple of days before drinking alcohol or using marijuana to let your body adjust to the altitude.

  • In the past my doctor has prescribed Diamox to me because of my previous history of altitude sickness.  I usually start it a day before my trip however, it does make some thing I eat and drink taste differently and sometimes I get a tingling/numbness in my hands so I would like to try something more natural.  Do you have any recommendations?

    • Hello Salim and thank you for comment.  Yes, I do have some suggestions but please check with your doctor first before trying any of these suggestions because of your previous altitude sickness history. Flygood Probiotic High Altitude Sickness prevention advertises itself as a natural alternative to Diamox so that would be a good place to start. Some other alternatives include Zacca Recovery Chewable Tablets and High Altitude Relief Capsules which advertises itself as "Colorado's #1 Product for Altitude Sickness.  Good luck and please let me know if you find a remedy that works better then any of these recommended.

  • Hi is there anyway to stop altitude sickness once you know you have it or if you regularly get altitude sickness if you travel to the mountains? I would love to be able to have something on hand that I can take that would make me feel better.  Maybe a medicine that I can pack and take with me?

    • Hello and thank you so much for your question. Yes, there are quite a few different types of remedies that you can pack to help alleviate altitude sickness.  You may have to experiment with a few different kinds on different trips to see which one ultimately works best for your body and symptoms.  But there ar pills, chewables, powder you mix with water, probiotics, Oxygen canisters and more.  See Also: High Altitude Sickness RemediesCheck out this post about remedies that can reduce altitude symptoms.

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