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The Traveller's Magazine
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Are Machu Picchu and Everest Base Camp on your travel bucket list? Exploring mountain peaks and seeing the world above the clouds is an experience like none other, until the altitude sickness kicks in. Here’s how to fight it.

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Life in the clouds… it’s a magical thing to see the world from the top of a mountain. What many don’t count on when planning trips to the mountains is altitude sickness. It can hit even the most experienced climbers. When the body travels above 2,200 metres, the amount of oxygen in the air decreases dramatically and the body fights to adjust. Keep climbing to 3,600 metres and there are 40% less oxygen molecules per breath compared to sea level.

But let’s talk about common altitude sickness that could hit just about anyone on their trips to destinations like Peru’s Machu Picchu or on a hiking trip through Colorado’s mountains.

[see]Flights to Machu Picchu[/see]

Climbing higher and higher

At 2,500 metres, only around 20% of people will experience altitude sickness. Even at 3,000 metres most people will adjust to the altitude fine after one or two nights. So what does altitude sickness look like? It can affect people differently but in general people will breathe faster and even hyperventilate to compensate for the low air pressure.

Also, people tend to pee more. If you aren’t urinating more than usual, it’s a good sign that you’re dehydrated. Dehydration is extremely common and can lead to some pretty nasty headaches. Some of these are symptoms are AMS, Acute Mountain Sickness. It’s a collection of symptoms that occur when you body hasn’t properly adapted to the new altitude and include pounding heart, disrupted sleep, giggles, nausea, dizziness and confusion.

[infobox]Interesting fact: altitude sickness tends to affect men more than women and especially men between the ages of 16 and 25.[/infobox]

Fighting altitude sickness

Peru

  • All types of altitude sickness come from going too high, too fast. Take your time and pace yourself, allowing your body to adjust is the best way to prevent it. After 3,000m it’s a good idea to only ascend 300m per day and then take a rest day.
  • Don’t over-exert yourself too quickly. Pace is everything.
  • Consider travelling with a small canister of 100% oxygen. This will greatly reduce the symptoms but the only way to cure it is to acclimatise or descend.
  • Avoid drinking coffee or alcohol while you’re travelling. It’s also strongly recommended not to smoke.
  • If you’re really feeling bad, sometimes going down just 300m can really make a difference. Hang out there for a day and then climb back up again.

How do you fight altitude sickness? Have you ever experienced it?

Imgs: kartlasarn, osvaldorove / Flickr cc.

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One response to “Health and wellness: fighting altitude sickness

  1. Love this article on Altitude Sickness. We here at Acli-Mate, an all-natural Mountain sports drinks would agree, that it is better to plan ahead to avoid altitude sickness than to experience. Also if you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness coming on you should stop what you are doing and go relax and hydrate until the symptoms subside. We recommend to travelers to buy Acli-Mate before there trip as Acli-Mate has work for many to avoid altitude sickness even for people who have experienced it before. It’s also safe for kids and adults of any age.

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