What is altitude sickness?

Mar 09, 2024
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Altitude sickness: know the symptoms and have a plan. If illness occurs we're here for you.

Summit County, Colorado is home to some of the highest peaks in the United States, including Quandary Peak, Grays Peak, and Torreys Peak. While these towering summits offer breathtaking views and unparalleled outdoor recreation opportunities, they also pose a significant risk of altitude sickness for those who are not acclimated to high elevations. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for altitude sickness in Summit County, Colorado.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that occurs when the body is exposed to high elevations too quickly without allowing sufficient time for acclimation. At high altitudes, the air pressure and oxygen levels are lower, making it more difficult for the body to function properly. Altitude sickness can occur at elevations above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) and is more common at elevations above 10,000 feet (3,000 meters).

Symptoms of altitude sickness

The symptoms of altitude sickness can vary from mild to severe and may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, or face

If left untreated, altitude sickness can lead to more serious conditions such as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which can be life-threatening.

Preventing altitude sickness

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to allow your body time to acclimate to high elevations. If you are planning a trip to Summit County, Colorado, it is recommended that you spend at least two to three days at lower elevations before ascending to higher elevations. During this time, it is important to stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and caffeine, and get plenty of rest.

If you are traveling from a low to a high elevation, it is also recommended that you ascend gradually rather than all at once. 

Treating altitude sickness

If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness while in Summit County, Colorado, it is important to take action to prevent the condition from getting worse. The following steps may be helpful:

  • Rest: Take a break and rest for a few hours or even a day.
  • Hydrate: Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to help your body adjust to the high altitude.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine: These substances can worsen altitude sickness symptoms.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve headaches and other symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Additional prescriptions can be useful to clear the lungs of the fluid that makes it hard to breathe, and anti-nausea medicine can also help relieve GI symptoms. 
  • IV Fluids
  • Oxygen: In severe cases of altitude sickness, supplemental oxygen may be necessary. Oxygen can be obtained from Peaks Medical facility in Summit County. We have both onsite service and equipment that can be taken home. 

In summary, altitude sickness is a common condition that can affect visitors to Summit County, Colorado. It is important to allow your body time to acclimate to high elevations and to take steps to prevent and treat altitude sickness symptoms. By following these guidelines, you can enjoy all that Summit County has to offer while minimizing the risk of altitude sickness.

Peaks Medical specializes in Treating Altitude Sickness at our Clinic and is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, seven days a week.