Hitting the slopes is a winter staple for many of us, but it’s important not to let altitude sickness put a halt to your winter fun
In order to combat the January blues, increasing numbers of us have started putting time aside to enjoy a winter break in the post-Christmas slump. And one of the most popular winter breaks is, of course, the skiing holiday.
But like any sporting holiday, skiing comes with its own array of health factors to consider. Chief among them is altitude sickness.
This is debilitating and potentially serious condition which impacts many of us who visit mountainous regions. In fact, up to half of people who ascend heights of more than 2,500m will likely develop acute mountain sickness, with the risk increasing at higher altitudes and at faster rates of ascent.
So what exactly is altitude sickness, and what can you do to avoid it? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is altitude sickness?
Put simply, altitude sickness is your body’s reaction to climbing to high altitudes it’s not used to.
Altitude sickness is actually a term that refers to a range of conditions, all of which can impact individuals as a result of ascending rapidly to high altitudes. These conditions are acute mountain sickness (AMD, the most common form of altitude sickness), high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE).
What causes altitude sickness?
As we climb higher, the air gets thinner and atmospheric pressure decreases. As a result, the body needs to work harder to inhale normal levels of oxygen.
The higher and faster you climb, the more likely you are to develop altitude sickness.
Between 9 and 25% of individuals ascending to 2,000-3,000m develop AMS compared to 35 to 50% of those ascending to 3,500-4,500m. Meanwhile, HACE and HAPE occur far less frequently than AMS, affecting around 1-2% of individuals who ascend altitudes between 4,000 and 5,000m.
Who is most impacted by altitude sickness?
Anybody who travels at high altitude can be impacted by some degree of altitude sickness. There is no one type of person who will be impacted, and no one is automatically immune to it.
However, certain groups are at an increased risk, including people who:
Have a history of altitude sickness
Overexert themselves during a climb
Drink alcohol before an ascent
Have a pre-existing medical condition which affects breathing
How to prevent altitude sickness
Ease yourself into your activities
One of the best pieces of advice for anyone hoping to avoid altitude sickness is to simply take your time while you’re climbing.
Those with a predisposition to high altitude sickness who ascend to altitudes higher than 2,500m should aim not to spend the night at an altitude any more than 300 to 350m higher than the previous night.
The symptoms of dehydration are similar to those of altitude sickness – namely dizziness, nausea and headaches. Because of this, being dehydrated as you ascend can worsen your condition. Drinking plenty of fluid during your altitude exposure can help to alleviate any symptoms.
Research your resort
If you’re concerned about how your body will react to higher altitudes, do a little research around different resorts before committing to one destination. Satellite resorts tend to be positioned in lower altitude bases and offer a more gradual ascent.
Choose the right medication
As with any medical condition, there are many supposed miracle cures for altitude advertised, but it’s important to view these with a healthy dose of suspicion and only choose medications which have been proven to contain medical benefits.
Acetazolamide is the only medication which is known to both prevent and treat altitude sickness effectively and safely.
Safe and effective altitude sickness medication like Acetazolamide is available right here at Express Pharmacy. Get in touch with one of our expert pharmacists today to find out more. Simply call us on 0208 123 07 03 or use our discreet online Live Chat service.
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 Gallagher, SA. MD. Hackett, P. MD. Patient education: High altitude illness (including mountain sickness) (Beyond the Basics). American Academy of Emergency Medicine. 2019
 Schommer, K. PhD. et al. Basic Medical Advice for Travelers to High Altitudes. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2011
 Harvard Health Publishing. Altitude Sickness: What is it? Harvard Medical School. 2018
 APEX. Altitude Sickness. 2019