Going skiing for winter break? Mountains are my favorite destination, but…please remember that the high altitude can come with a couple medical challenges. First of all, don’t be fooled that cool weather means no sunburns! Check out this blog on sunscreen so you don’t end up with a high altitude burn. Secondly, be aware of signs and symptoms of “mountain sickness” (aka. altitude sickness).
HOW HIGH do you have to be for altitude sickness?
There is not a set elevation for typical mountain vacations that affects everyone. Symptoms are uncommon at altitudes below 5000 feet above sea level, and fairly common above 8000 feet. If you fly to a higher elevation (such as above 8000 feet), wait a day to acclimate before you start hiking the high peaks nearby.
- Mild to moderate: HEADACHE, decreased appetite or nausea, insomnia, and lightheadedness
- Severe: All of the above plus vomiting and shortness of breath
- Hydration and avoidance of diuretics like CAFFEINE and ALCOHOL, especially the first few days.
- SLOW ASCENT if possible (driving up to the mountains is lower risk than flying).
- If you have had altitude sickness previously, especially if it has occurred on multiple trips to the same elevation, see your doctor and consider prophylactic medications (acetazolamide or steroids).