Altitude sickness

Originally Published: February 16, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 7, 2013
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Alice,

We are about to go to Vail, Colorado skiing. Is there anything that we can take to lessen the chance of the BAD altitude sickness headaches?

— Ready to enjoy

Dear Ready to Enjoy,

It's great to plan ahead — paying attention to your body will help to make the most of your ski trip. Lack of oxygen in the air at high altitudes gives some people altitude sickness, regardless of age or physical condition. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or shortness of breath, and trouble sleeping.  The condition is  relatively common for people visiting altitudes above 8000 feet, including about 25 percent of Colorado vacationers. The following steps may help avoid altitude sickness:

  • Get plenty of rest before your trip.
  • Avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, or narcotics, as they slow breathing (so the body doesn't get as much oxygen).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat high-carb foods (e.g. rice, pasta, cereal). Avoid fats.
  • Don't over-exert, especially during your first few days.
  • Give your body time to acclimate by spending a night at a moderate altitude.
  • Choose a place to stay at night that is at a lower altitude.

Symptoms of mild altitude sickness may be relieved with a pain relievers like ibuprofen and/or resting at a lower altitude.

Most people with mild altitude sickness get better on their own in a few days with no treatment at all. A doctor can help evaluate and treat moderate and severe symptoms. If you know you are prone to altitude sickness, you could consult with a doctor before your trip about taking a prescription medication such as Diamox, an FDA-approved treatment for altitude sickness. Sometimes the effects of altitude can be subtle and people don't notice their own symptoms. If you're skiing with buddies, you may want to keep an eye out for them as well. Enjoy your trip!

Alice