Tips for Traveling to High Altitude Destinations

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When traveling to a destination above 5,000 feet in elevation, you end up at risk for altitude sickness. You may experience headache, fatigue, nausea, and other symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). At higher elevations, you may even develop High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which can be fatal. In general, so long as you listen to your body and don’t ignore the signs of AMS, you can avoid serious difficulty. However, you should still take the following precautions when traveling to a high-altitude area.

– Know how high you’re going. It may be easier to get into a high-altitude zone than you think. It’s pretty obvious you’re crossing the 5,000-foot threshold when you’re climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya. However, some cities, like Bogota in Colombia and Quito in Ecuador, are in high-altitude zones, as well.

– Give yourself time to acclimate. AMS, HACE, and HAPE are not fully understood, but you’re less likely to develop these conditions if you take a few days to get used to your environment before beginning strenuous activity. If you’re taking a ski vacation or going hiking in the Andes, build acclimatization days into your trip, and always be ready to move to a lower elevation if you become sick.

– See your doctor. Pre-existing conditions like a sinus infection or heart and lung problems can exacerbate problems at high altitudes, so you should discuss your trip with your doctor before leaving. Additionally, he or she may prescribe a medication like acetazolamide or dexamethasone to help you acclimatize more quickly.

– Stay hydrated and rested. Your body has less of an ability to handle high altitudes when you are tired and dehydrated, so try to avoid risk factors such as caffeine or alcohol. Also, make sure to drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep when you stay in a high-altitude zone.

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