Altitude Sickness in Colorado
Colorado is known for its elevation – Denver is, of course, the Mile High City, and many of our state’s mountain destinations are at or over 8,000 feet above sea level.
If you are hiking a 14er this summer, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of altitude sickness (especially you out-of-towners who aren’t used to our lofty altitude).
Altitude sickness can occur at any altitude generally over 8,000 feet and is due to a lack of oxygen from the air. One of the mysteries is that it’s not easy to predict who will and won’t develop it. You can be a marathon runner traveling up a mountain with an elderly person, and it’s a crapshoot on if one, both, or neither of you will get sick.
Symptoms usually won’t start to present themselves until after a few hours at that altitude. The most prominent symptom of altitude is a headache, although altitude sickness is also characterized by fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness. A lot of times, people mistake altitude sickness for the flu. In general, if you are up in the mountains and suddenly think you’re getting sick, you should always consider it to be altitude sickness until proven otherwise.
There aren’t a lot of treatment options for it either. Your best bet is to descend as soon as possible. If the symptoms are really mild, you can just wait it out and let your body get used to it. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol or Advil to help with the headache.
It’s a lot easier to make smart choices to avoid getting altitude sickness than it is to treat it. Ascend slowly, and take it easy. Enjoy the more casual activities first, and save more rigorous physical activity for when your body is better adjusted. Sleep at an altitude lower than where you spent the day. Try not to fly directly into a high altitude location, and instead spend some time at a medium altitude before heading further up.
As always, remember to stay hydrated and to seek medical attention if your condition does not improve.
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