Mountain sickness can ruin a winter break, so here’s everything you need to know to stay safe and healthy

After the excitement and indulgence of the festive period, it’s easy to feel a little down for the rest of winter. The weather’s still cold, the nights are still dark, and the celebrations are over. To counteract this, a growing number of us turn to the solution of a winter break to keep the fun going. For many of us in the UK, this means a picturesque ski trip to lift the spirits.

And whilst a ski trip is a great way to break up your winter, it’s important that you know how to ensure sickness doesn’t ruin your getaway. Altitude sickness can strike at any time if you are travelling way above sea level, so here’s all the information you need to guarantee your family a happy, healthy winter ski trip.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness, is a condition which occurs when you travel to a high altitude too quickly, meaning your body cannot adjust and function properly. As a result, breathing becomes difficult because you cannot take in as much oxygen as you normally would.

Any altitude above 8,000 feet is considered high, meaning the risk of acute mountain sickness is present. However, for most people the condition will occur at heights of 12,000 feet or higher, as at 12,000 feet there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level.

If ignored, altitude sickness can result in an emergency medical situation.

Causes of altitude sickness

Factors such as physical fitness, age or sex have no bearing on your likelihood of obtaining altitude sickness when away. You also shouldn’t assume that just because you haven’t suffered from acute mountain sickness when skiing in the past, you won’t suffer from it in the future. Anybody can suffer from the symptoms of altitude sickness at a given time.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

Altitude sickness symptoms can include:

- Dizziness

- Tiredness

- Nausea

- Vomiting

- Headaches

- Shortness of breath

- Loss of appetite

Symptoms of altitude sickness don’t usually develop straight away, often taking between 6 and 24 hours to occur after you’ve been exposed to high altitudes. Symptoms are usually worse at night, and can feel similar to those of a particularly bad hangover.

Altitude sickness prevention

When you are in the UK, it is very unlikely that an individual will suffer from acute mountain sickness as the highest peak — Scotland’s Ben Nevis — is only 1,345 metres high, which is equivalent to 4,413 feet. However, this is the time of year when many of us head overseas for winter ski trips, so it’s more important now than ever to get to grips with prevention and treatment for altitude sickness.

In order to avoid altitude sickness, you should travel to altitudes above 8,000 feet slowly to allow your body to get used to your surroundings. You should also:

- Take 2-3 days to get used to high altitudes before going above 8,000 feet

- Avoid flying directly into high altitudes

- Rest every 600-900 metres you climb

- Avoid climbing more than 300-500 metres in a single day

- Drink plenty of fluids

- Avoid strenuous exercise for the first day of your trip

- Eat light, high calorie meals

- Avoid alcohol and smoking

- Medication for altitude sickness

Acetazolamide is an effective medication for the prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness. It works by reducing the amount of fluid in the head and lungs, improving breathing and helping us adjust more quickly to higher altitudes. It should be taken initially 1-2 days before entering a high altitude area, and for at least a further two days after reaching your peak altitude.

Acetazolamide is available from Express Pharmacy.

For altitude sickness tablets or other effective NHS-approved medication for a variety of conditions, contact Express Pharmacy. You can use our discreet diagnosis process to find the right treatment for your condition, or call the team on 0208 123 07 03.