How to Recognize the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

July 18, 2022

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If you live in Denver, you’re likely familiar with the term “altitude sickness.” Both residents and visitors to alpine environments can experience altitude sickness, but it’s most common in individuals who are not acclimated to traveling above sea level. It can cause immediate symptoms including headache, nausea, vomiting, malaise and fatigue.

If you, or someone you know is planning a trip to high altitude areas like the Colorado Rockies, it is important to know how to prevent and identify signs of altitude sickness. Fortunately, there are ways to help your body acclimate to increases in altitude and lessen the likelihood of experiencing any illness.

Altitude Sickness Symptoms

If you are visiting high altitude areas of Colorado like Winter Park, or traveling from a sea level city to a city like Denver, you should give yourself a few days of rest when arriving to your location to help your body acclimate. After your trip from a lower elevation to a high-altitude area it is also important to stay hydrated.

The symptoms of altitude sickness can quickly progress from general headache, nausea, and fatigue to confusion, decreased levels of consciousness, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and cough. These symptoms should prompt a 911 call or emergent evaluation at a hospital.

Things that can increase the likelihood of getting altitude sickness in the mountains include strenuous exercise, drinking alcohol, having underlying lung problems, moving from low elevation to an altitude above 8000 feet in one day, and a history of prior altitude illness.

Help Your Body Adjust to Higher Altitudes

Unfortunately, we do not have a full understanding about how altitude illness occurs, and it is not always predictable. A few ways you can help your body adjust to a high altitude include:

  • Ascending to a higher altitude slowly. Consider staying at a medium altitude of 4,000 to 6,000 ft above sea level for at least a day before ascending to your high-altitude destination
  • Hydrate before and after you arrive to altitude (a good rule of thumb is drinking enough fluids/water to keep your urine light yellow).
  • Choose light activities for the first 48 hours at altitude (sightseeing, light hiking, boating, ATV riding, scenic gondola rides, etc.).
  • Minimize or avoid alcohol and caffeine while at higher altitudes.
  • Talk to your primary care provider if you have had altitude illness before to discuss if prevention medications might help.

Don’t Dismiss Altitude Sickness Symptoms: Seek Medical Care Immediately

It’s impossible to be completely prepared for when and if you begin experiencing altitude sickness but knowing the symptoms can help you recognize the need to rest, hydrate, and seek medical attention if necessary.

About Denver Health Winter Park Medical Center

Denver Health has emergency and urgent care locations across Denver and even in Winter Park, CO. The Denver Health Winter Park Medical Center now offers primary, urgent and emergency care services year-round. Whether you are seeking help in the summer or winter, we are here to serve you the best possible altitude sickness treatment care.