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.
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.
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:
Symptoms will intensify as you go up in elevation and dissipate as you go down in elevation
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.
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.
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 such as benzodiazepine. The effects of some drugs, such as, tranquilizers are greatly increased at higher altitudes
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
If someone begins to experience severe symptoms get them to a lower altitude quickly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
HACE: People suffering from HACE will be confused, have trouble speaking, slurring, be extreme lethargic, and have trouble walking.
HAPE: 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.
Local Vail Valley Medical Facilities:
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.
We hope you found this article about preventing altitude sickness in Colorado helpful.
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