If you’ve ever hiked Machu Picchu, climbed Kilimanjaro, or even skied some particularly intense slopes, you might be familiar with altitude sickness. It’s a common ailment — studies show that 25 percent of people show signs of it at elevations as low as 8,000 feet. In its most benign form, altitude sickness can put a damper on your vacation plans. In more severe manifestations it can be debilitating — and sometimes deadly. If you’re planning to travel to higher elevations, be sure you know how to prevent and treat altitude sickness.
Before You Go:
- Take Ibuprofen
Ibuprofen was found to significantly reduce the incidence of altitude sickness in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 86 men and women. Take 400 mg of Motrin or Advil in the morning, and then every six hours while at elevation.
Drink two to three liters of water a day to prepare for your trip. Dehydration decreases the body’s ability to acclimatize to higher altitudes.
If you are a regular coffee drinker, make sure that you have caffeine prior to climbing. The effects of caffeine withdrawal mimic the effects of altitude sickness, and are alleviated by caffeine. It’s also a good idea to bring caffeine-containing Excedrin along on the trip for a quick pick-me-up.
- Bring Snacks
Because it’s important that you continue to eat while at altitude, make sure you are bringing food that is easily tolerated. Treats like chocolate or snacks such as pretzels can be great portable options. Stick with simple flavors; sometimes spicy food can be very nauseating at high altitudes.
During the Trip:
Don’t go too high too fast. Acclimatization is the most important way to avoid symptoms of altitude sickness, so plan for a night or two at 8,000 feet, then ascend no more than 1,600 feet per day.
- Climb High, Sleep Low
The old climber’s adage holds true: climb high, sleep low. It’s important to head to higher altitudes during the day as you are trying to acclimatize, but to sleep lower in order to get oxygen. Never sleep at an altitude if you are feeling symptoms of altitude sickness; head down the mountain to sleep in thicker air.
- Hydrate More
You’ll know if you’re drinking enough water if you’re urinating regularly. If you haven’t urinated in three to four hours, drink more. Higher altitudes require extra fluid consumption.
- Cover Up. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, lip protection, and sunblock. Be sure to wear sunglasses as well to avoid snow blindness, a condition that can occur at higher elevations.