Perhaps as many as half the visitors from lower elevations experience some form of altitude illness. The vast majority of cases are self limited and spontaneously resolve as the body acclimatizes.
Symptoms include fatigue, decreased appetite, shortness of breath with minimal exertion, nausea, headache and sleep disturbances. These symptoms are often worse the second day at altitude but resolve in four to five days.
Rest is the key to treating mild forms of altitude sickness. Avoid overexertion, eat lightly and drink extra fluids during your first two days at altitude. Avoid alcohol.
If your symptoms become worse rather than better, you should contact one of our seven offices. Acute altitude sickness sufferers can take medication in advance and will usually remain symptom free.
You may already have noticed the dryness of the high mountain air. Your normal body fluid loss may easily be twice as great up here. The decreased amount of oxygen will cause you to breathe more rapidly and lose further body water. Further, you may be more physically active here than at home. All of the above will cause you to become dehydrated. An adult should strive to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. Alcohol causes further dehydration and is not a substitute for water. (One alcoholic drink at high altitude has the same effect as two at sea level).
You may notice extra skin dryness and slight nosebleeds. Hydration is paramount but extra moisturizer and putting a little Vaseline in your nose may help with these symptoms. A humidifier may also help you feel more comfortable. (These are available for rent through pharmacies and humidifier businesses).
Because of the thinner atmosphere and reflection from snow or water, you sunburn much more easily than you'd expect. Ultraviolet light is more intense at higher altitude. Be sure to protect your face and lips, as well as your body, with appropriate sunscreen (use at least an SPF of 15) and protect your eyes with sunglasses or goggles. Increased ultraviolet exposure can also trigger a severe outbreak of cold sores. Medication can be prescribed if you seek early attention.
Whatever sports you participate in, please be sure to take necessary precautions such as wearing a helmet when road or mountain biking, and wearing protective equipment when roller blading. Carry extra water with you on bike trips, or when hiking or camping. Drinking from mountain streams is not recommended as Giardia, a microorgansm which lives in the streams, can cause debilitating diarrhea. Water taken from streams should be boiled for a minimum of 30 minutes before using in any capacity.
We hope your stay in the high country is pleasant and memorable and that you will not have any illnesses or injuries. If you do need medical care, we are easily accessible and happy to assist you.
From 'Health Hints For Your Visit to Colorado's Mountain Country' by Colorado Mountain Medical, P.C.