iResort App - Altitude
Altitude Adjustment Tips and Remedies

12,840 feet – Summit of Breckenridge resort

12,313 feet – Summit of Copper Mountain

  5,430 feet - Denver International Airport

 

These altitude numbers remind us of the stunning beauty and splendor of some of the best Colorado Rocky Mountains and ski resorts.  But their elevation - especially for those who are visiting Colorado from sea level – can be tough on the body. Altitude sickness is real, and it’s no joke.

 

This page provides a summary of altitude symptoms, tips and remedies on how to prevent and overcome the very real symptoms of altitude sickness so you can enjoy your skiing, snowboarding or summer mountain vacation feeling the very best you can and avoid the malaise that can surround adjusting to life closer to the sun. 

 

 

What is altitude sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS is caused from changing altitudes in a short period of time, affecting visitors when they exceed 8,000 feet (2438 meters) in elevation.  Quickly arriving from lower altitudes by plane and immediately forcing your system to deal with less oxygen per breath than it’s used to can create unpleasant symptoms until the body adjusts to the shift.  Your body needs to create more red blood cells to carry oxygen to your cells, and this takes time and self-care. Generally speaking, altitude sickness affects the lungs and the brain, and it is fairly common. Tall or small, child or adult, cross-fit junkie or couch potato extraordinaire - AMS does not discriminate. Even your pets can suffer from altitude symptoms!

 

A common misperception is that areas of higher elevation have less oxygen.  This is actually not true.  High elevations still have 21% oxygen in the air (the same as at sea level) --- but the air molecules are   f   u   r   t   h   e   r   apart which means that each breath taken at high altitudes delivers less oxygen to the brain and throughout your body.  For example, when you take a breath at 12,000 feet, you're breathing in about 40% less oxygen than at sea level  . . . no wonder you feel woozy just tying your shoes!

Inadequate oxygen in the body can lead to symptoms that feel a lot like the flu or a hangover, including:

  • Headache and sinus pressure, usually throbbing
  • Nausea and sometimes vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
  • Breathlessness, especially when climbing stairs
  • Decreased Energy and Increased Fatigue, a general malaise 
  • Irritability and apathy
  • Nosebleeds
  • Tingling in your extremities

 

AMS is tricky because it may impact one person one year, while hardly affecting them the next. There are some studies that suggest a genetic predisposition to AMS, but more conclusive research needs to be done on that.  Acclimation simply takes time - how much time is unique to the individual.  Many sources encourage visitors coming from lower elevations to gradually ascend to higher ones.  This means if you are flying in from sea-level to Denver - spend the night at 5,280 feet before heading straight to the top of Breckenridge's Imperial Chair (at 12,840 feet).  

 

> Water is your body's best friend

 

Before, and during your Colorado mountain trip, it is crucial to frequently hydrate your body by drinking copious amounts of water. Yes, there is water in those delicious local Colorado brews, however, before grabbing your pint of beer, drink at least 5.5 pints (about 90 ounces) of water each day of your trip.  Another way to calculate your water needs is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water - for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water a day.  Try to drink enough that you urinate every hour or two.  Going back to your high school science class, the oxygen in water (H2O) is what you need to replace, and this is the easiest, cheapest, and most foolproof way to feel your best at higher altitudes. 

 

When you’re active, you can lose as much as one liter of water an hour – and that’s during a mild hike or light ski day.  If you are playing harder by cycling up the mountain or hitting double black diamond slopes, you lose even more. We also enjoy low humidity here, so you are losing moisture through your skin just through evaporation even when sitting on the couch or sleeping.

One huge advantage we have around this whole water thing is that you DO NOT need to buy bottled water from the super market or local convenience store.  Our tap water is literally award winning – and we are lucky enough to be the first recipients of fresh snow melt in the form of water before it heads downstream to be processed over and over.  The bottled water in plastic is tough on the environment since we have to then deal with the recycling of the bottles.  And those bottles are filled with water that isn’t as fresh or pure as the water you get from the tap and costs you plenty.  Your best bet is to purchase a stainless steel or Nalgene water bottle and keep re-filling it, which also gives you a place to put those stickers you’ve collected and makes a souvenir to take home.  Try adding a slice of citrus fruit, cucumber or fresh herbs if you prefer flavored “spa like” water or just want a nice treat.  Local restaurants are happy to provide you water as well, so don’t be shy about lapping it up while you are out to eat. 

 

 

> Boost Your Body with Proper Nutrition

 

Building red blood cells is hard work, so you need to feed your body what it needs to support that effort – both before your trip and during your stay. Think foods with vitamins B-12, iron and folic acid. Your best choices are lean red meat, poultry, fish, oysters, dark leafy greens, dark fruits, and complex carbohydrates like lentils and beans.  Ideas include steak tacos with beans and guacamole, Rocky Mountain trout with a big spinach and kale salad, or a fresh fruit smoothie with wheat grass, protein powder and coconut water.  At least your first few days, avoid alcohol, greasy foods, and simple carbs.  iResort App’s Dine section provides awesome places to indulge in delicious, nutritious food while you are in the mountains and help you feel your best while you’re here.  And Breckenridge Market has great, healthy choices while you're in town. 

 

> Remedies, remedies

 

If you heeded the water and nutrition advice and are still feeling punk, (or just want to be sure you feel your best) there are a number of time worn remedies to help you deal with symptoms and speed your system’s adjustment to the altitude.  We have collected recommendations from locals, nurses and naturopaths that could be worth a try for you:

  • Take ginkgo biloba supplements the week before you arrive, and every day during your stay
  • Drink at least 8 ounces of coconut water (in addition to regular water) each day of your visit - this tastes great in smoothies too!
  • On your first day, take 4 Rolaids with 2 large bottles of water
  • Drink no alcohol at all the first 24 hours after you arrive
  • Over the counter pain and sinus relievers like ibuprofen and decongestants
  • Enzyme replacements like Air-power or Air-aid
  • Oxygen bars or portable oxygen – I have personally tried this and it works to get you over the hump!
  • Cell Food Tincture, available at natural food stores such as Whole Foods – one drop per ounce of water every day you are at altitude
  • Acupuncture – Local Kevin Waldron is owner of Colorado Restorative Acupuncture, and has great success helping visitors get beyond their altitude symptoms, often with one treatment.  He is also a Chinese herbalist and may recommend Curing Pills to support your recovery.
  • Acetazolamide, or Diamox, can be prescribed by a physician and this helps speed up your body’s adjustment to altitude

 

 > Extreme Situations *

 

If symptoms are extremely severe, or are different from the symptoms outlined above, then HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or brain swelling) could be a possibility.  Although somewhat rare, If you suspect that your situation is beyond the simple symptoms outlined above, immediately contact a health care professional or hospital, as there can be extreme reactions to altitude that go beyond the simple issues outlined above.
                 

 

You may need to descend to a lower altitude for a time.  It’s not ideal, but it is considered curative.  You can spend a day or two at a lower altitude and then come back up, which is what the extreme mountain climbers do to adjust to the high altitudes of Everest and other mountains. This pushes your body to adjust to the higher altitude but gives you a chance to build up those red blood cells in a more comfortable way. 

 

Most importantly, enjoy your time in the mountains and take good care of yourself.  If you plan ahead, take it easy the first couple days, and pay attention to your body’s signals, you should be just fine. 

  

* Please note that if you have been prescribed oxygen, been diagnosed with long-term illnesses or heart/circulatory conditions such as sickle cell anemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sleep apnea you should speak with your doctor FIRST about altitude sickness.  This article is not intended to be used to diagnose or prescribe treatment, or as a substitute for common sense or listening to your own body.  Please consult a physician if you have any questions or concerns about your symptoms. 

 

FOR INFO 720-273-0245

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