7 Tips to Avoid Altitude Sickness

Whether you are visiting a high-altitude city or climbing to the summit of a massive mountain, altitude sickness is a common, but potentially dangerous condition. For people who have spent the majority of their lives at sea level it is especially important to recognize how strong of an affect that altitude can actually have on the human body. While the symptoms vary from person to person it’s always best to air on the side of caution when subjecting yourself to an altitude that you have never been before. Here’s a list of tricks you can use to either avoid or lessen the effects of altitude sickness.

The suggestion to ‘drink plenty of fluids’ is one of the easiest things you can possibly do. The funny thing about it is that not too many people actually take this advice seriously. From hangovers to the common cold, staying hydrated is a hugely important part of the human body, and when it comes to altitude it is absolutely crucial. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol is just as important as drinking enough water, because these two things are major dehydrators on the body. If you feel the headache of altitude sickness coming on, it is actually recommended that you down an entire liter of water to combat the effects!

Another easy suggestion to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of altitude sickness is to slowly build up to the target altitude you want to achieve. For example, if you are coming from sea level and planning a ski vacation in Colorado you shouldn’t just head straight up to the mountains. If you want to ski some of the 12,000+ ft peaks its important that you acclimatize yourself at lower altitudes for at least a day or two. Spending a day in Denver at 5,280ft walking around and getting your lungs used to thin air is highly recommended.

High Carb Diet
While there is some controversy on whether a high carb diet is an effective strategy to battle altitude sickness, some studies show that it can definitely help. The idea is that loading up on carbs before you climb increases carbon dioxide production in the body, which in turn increases your breathing rate. Even if this theory isn’t 100% accurate carbs increase your energy so it’s a good idea either way.

Coca Leaves
Unfortunately if you live in the United States this is not an option to cure your altitude sickness. Coca leaves are the main ingredient in cocaine making them illegal. However, all throughout the Andes of Peru and Bolivia the locals chew these leaves as they are said to remove all ill effects of altitude while giving you a slight burst in energy.

Slow Pace
Even if you consider yourself to be in tip-top shape, working out at altitude is a completely different story. If you find yourself at a new altitude it doesn’t matter what you are doing, make sure you slow your pace significantly. This doesn’t only apply to rigorous activities such as climbing, skiing or mountain biking, even if you are just walking around at altitude you can suffer from this dangerous condition, so always be weary.

Climb High – Sleep Low
Surprisingly, sleeping can be one of the most dangerous activities you can do at altitude. If you plan on going to new heights, make sure you descend at night to let your lungs and body recuperate. If you do plan on a multi-day ascent of a large mountain sometimes it’s best to climb up to a new height, but come down a bit before your sleep each night. If you do this in stages your body will adapt better to the altitude shock.

Recognize Symptoms
Perhaps the most crucial thing to remember when it comes to altitude sickness is to recognize the symptoms you are experiencing and descend from high heights immediately if you are feeling them. Many people compare the initial symptoms of altitude sickness with a wicked hangover. If you feel a ‘dehydration’ headache, dizziness or nausea these can be the warning signs for altitude illness and can develop into a potentially life-threatening situation.

By Alex Vere Nicoll