July 14, 2016 This weekend we’re headed up to Pikes Peak. We’ll be hitting one of the highest elevation points so it’s important to recognize the effects of Altitude Sickness along with how to prevent it!
This is the best way to help your body adjust to high altitude. Generally the low humidity at altitude keeps the air dry, so you should drink twice as much water as you would at home.
Also keep in mind that you want to add water to your body, not deplete it. At least initially, avoid caffeine and alcohol.
Foods rich in potassium are great for acclimating. Some good staples to eat include broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes and tomatoes.
Do your body a favor and decrease salt intake.
Additionally, complex carbohydrates are great for stabilizing your blood sugar and maintaining energy. Eat plenty of whole grains, pasta, fruits, and vegetables.
3. Easy does it
You’ve been planning an epic winter vacation for months. But this is the first time you’ve logged any time above 6,000 feet.
You will feel the effects of exercise more at altitude than at home. By all means, get after it. But dial back the effort if you’re short of breath, sore, or consistently fatigued.
4. Shade yourself
The big sky country of the mountains isn’t a figment of your imagination. There’s less water vapor in the air here, which makes the color of the sky bluer than the sky at home.
That’s pretty. It also means there’s 25 percent less protection from the sun. If you don’t lather up with sunscreen—a proper amount to apply is a shot glass worth each time—you burn. This is true regardless of your complexion.
Before You Head Up
Acclimatize gradually. One easy preventive solution is to ascend slowly. Stop and spend a day at 8,000 or 9,000 feet if you are heading up to 10,000 feet. The CDC advises no more than 1,000 feet of elevation gain per day at altitudes above 12,000 feet.
“Use appropriate drugs to help if you’re short on time. A diuretic called acetazolamide may help rid your body of extra fluids that accumulate in the brain and lungs,” says Thomas Merchant, an orthopedic surgeon from Sacramento. “It might prevent the onset of acute mountain sickness,” Merchant says. The CDC cautions to only use to speed up acclimatization if abrupt descent is unavoidable, and to always check with a doctor before using.
Stay away from alcohol 48 hours before heading up. “You shouldn’t do what everyone else does, which is party hard the night before you go up,” says Merchant, who volunteers as a ski patrol physician during winters in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Alcohol affects fluid distribution, so drinking alcohol is not helpful when it comes to acute mountain sickness, especially during the first or second night at high altitude.
Pack plenty of water. Hydrate yourself well before and during your time at high altitude. Drink at least two liters of water a day.
On the Mountain
Test for symptoms. Ask someone to remember three things, such as what day it is, what they’ve eaten today or how much of the trip you’ve completed. Three minutes later, check whether that person still remembers them. Any mental fuzziness could signal altitude sickness or cerebral edema.
Stop climbing. Even the most minor symptoms can escalate into something grave, especially if you are sleeping at the higher altitude. Stop and let your body acclimate to its surroundings.
Rest. Experienced climbers can choose to use oxygen above 20,000 feet. But for everyday athletes or tourists, the best option may be just to take it easy.
Descend immediately if symptoms worsen while resting. Hardcore climbers follow the credo “Climb high, sleep low.” If you have severe symptoms, like shortness of breath or loss of coordination, your first goal is to descend 2,000 to 3,000 feet below your current location. “That may just sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people never think of it,” Merchant says.
Down the Mountain
Use a pressurized oxygen sack if you are in a remote area or cannot descend. Most often called Gamow Bags, these portable, body-sized hyperbaric oxygen units can mimic a descent of 5,000 to 6,000 feet.
Take simple painkillers. Analgesics like Tylenol or Advil can help with a lingering altitude headache.
Go to the emergency room if your symptoms do not resolve quickly. Lingering symptoms of altitude sickness could signal high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema. In that case, you will want to get aids such as oxygen from the hospital.