Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had—throbbing temples, a nagging urge to puke, wobbly legs and frequent naps. That pretty much sums up what altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), feels like.
Believe it or not, AMS can set in at elevations as low as 5,000 ft. That’s why people flying from sea level to Jackson, Wyoming (around 6,000 feet) for vacation commonly suffer from a day or two of mild headaches and fatigue. And if you’re going to a higher elevation ski resort out West or into the Himalaya or the Andes in Peru where you can reach elevations over 15,000 feet, it’s even more imperative that you pay attention to how you’re feeling.
Though generally easy to treat with rest and a small dose of Ibuprofen, it’s hard to appreciate a bird’s eye views of the world with a splitting headache. So, here are a few tips to help you avoid AMS all together on your next high altitude vacation…
Drinking water is essential while doing any physical activity, but especially when exercising at altitude. Add one to 1.5 liters to your daily water intake to avoid headaches and ease the acclimatization process. Your blood should flow like wine, not ketchup.
Take it slow
Even at rest your body is working hard just to oxygenate your blood while you acclimatize. Though you frequent the gym and ran a marathon last week (good on you!), it’s still critical to take it slow. Fit people are more likely to suffer from AMS because they get too high too fast. Take it easy, enjoy the view, and let your body catch up.
Climb high, sleep low
Before your trip take some hikes up to a high point during the day and then sleep at a comfortable elevation. If you have time before your trip, go for a quick hike the day before and give your blood cells a little head start. Light exercise at elevation, before a major altitude gain, can spike your respiratory drive and speed acclimatization.
Easy on the alcohol
At altitude you’ll be a cheap date. Alcohol affects our bodies much more quickly at elevation and one strong beer can knock you on your butt. Before you run off to the bar, remember, the hangover will also be much worse and drinking will slow the acclimatization process.
Your doctor may prescribe acetazolamide, commonly known as Diamox, to prevent altitude sickness. Diamox is a preventative drug meaning you should take it before you start feeling headachy and nauseous. It will not ease symptoms as effectively once at altitude.
The following methods can help prevent AMS, but the best and most immediate cure is to descend, quickly (especially when symptoms are severe).
The above information is not intended to be medical advice. If you feel like you might be suffering from AMS, consult a medical expert immediately.