For Sarah Kohl, M.D., altitude sickness was more than just a headache:
All my life I have struggled with altitude sickness. Headaches, shortness of breath and nausea are the norm for me for the first few days anytime I start sleeping above 9000ft (2700 meters) However, in the last few years I noticed the symptoms had worsened which I attributed to being out of shape. A recent ski trip to Utah showed me otherwise.
Dr. Kohl provides these tips for mountain-trekkers:
- Rest and go slow the first few days at altitude.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and certain prescription medications.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the inevitable headache.
- It is important to drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration and eat even if you are not hungry.
- Medication such as acetazolamide (Diamox) is often recommended for the first few days to help your body adjust to altitude.
- If you have a concurrent upper respiratory infection (a ‘cold’) your symptoms may be worse than otherwise expected.
- People with severe symptoms or worsening symptoms will need to descend.
It turns out that Dr. Kohl suffered from a congenital heart condition that, once repaired, allowed her to return to the mountaintop:
After getting the go-ahead I scheduled a trip to Utah to ski in the Little Cottonwood Canyon (10,000 ft) and found I could ski myself silly. This sudden improvement occurred with no change in preparation or exercise routine. My previous difficulty with altitude sickness was actually a mild condition made much worse by a cardiac problem–which is now gone.
And that is why I am smiling.
Now that I am able to comfortably go to altitude, with minimal headache and fatigue for the first few days, I am busily planning more vacations at altitude.
I think I’ll start with a visit to Machu Picchu.
(Editor: Sarah Kohl, M.D. is a pediatrician at Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers/McMurray Division. She is also founder and president of TravelReadyMD, an independent practice which provides expert advice, medical care, and vaccines for children, students, and adults who travel abroad. This is an invaluable and highly recommended service to international travelers of all ages!)
(TravelReadyMD is an independent practice and is not a division of Pediatric Alliance.)