How to Prevent Altitude Sickness While Traveling
Western U.S. or South America; winter skiing or summer hiking; young or old; if you are traveling to a destination at a high altitude I recommend preparing yourself and your family to prevent altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
AMS is the mildest form of altitude sickness and is caused by the reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels often found at higher altitudes.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
According to Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, symptoms include:
• Difficulty sleeping
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea or vomiting
• Rapid pulse (heart rate)
• Shortness of breath with exertion
During our trips out west, our family who lives at sea level in Florida has dealt with most of these symptoms. To help prevent and deal with altitude sickness and AMS, here are some tips I have researched and would like to share.
How to Prevent Altitude Sickness
1. Stay Hydrated
The most important advice from the medical community is to stay hydrated. Start drinking water on the plane or car ride and continue when you arrive at your destination.
2. Consume Caffeine and Alcohol with Caution
Caffeine and alcohol can both be dehydrating and the effects of dehydration are intensified by the altitude change. It’s hard to give up a favorite latte or glass of wine while on vacation, but consider skipping the drinks the first day and then consuming in moderation as your body acclimates.
3. Acclimate Gradually
If you travel straight from sea level to a high altitude like we do, then heading directly to a mountain destination can be hard on the body. If your travel plans allow, try spending one night in an area at a lower elevation. For a week-long summer trip we spent one night in Denver before driving into the Colorado mountains and found the adjustment to be easier.
4. Take it Easy
Overexerting yourself with too much physical exercise may make you feel worse. Try to take it easy for the first day or two with shorter periods of exercise and frequent breaks during the day.
Altitude Sickness Treatment
If you do experience headaches, nausea or shortness of breath, here are the best remedies I have found.
1. Increase Water Intake
Just as staying hydrated in advance helps to prevent altitude sickness, if you start to feel symptoms then re-hydrating will also help.
2. Take Medicine as Needed
Taking ibuprofin (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help with headaches and general achiness. We also bring antacids including Children’s Pepto to help with upset tummies. If you are concerned about altitude sickness or have experienced it in the past, talk to your doctor as prescription medicines such as acetazolamide are also available.
3. Seek Medical Treatment or Move to a Lower Elevation
If breathing becomes difficult, you or your child might need more oxygen. In an emergency situation it is best to seek medical attention which might include receiving oxygen via a tank. In a less serious situation, moving to a lower elevation (at least 1,500 ft lower) should help relieve symptoms. Staying at this lower altitude for a night will allow the body to adjust and feel better.
Whether you are skiing, hiking or sight-seeing, traveling to the mountains is a great family vacation. To make sure you feel your best, be sure to follow these tips to prevent and treat altitude sickness.
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Susan is an enthusiastic traveler and mom to a 11 year-old boy and eight year-old girl. Originally from North Carolina, Susan is a Southerner at heart, although…