MAIN STREET MEDICAL CENTER
ABOUT ALTITUDE SICKNESS
Symptoms of altitude intolerance can range from mild shortness of breath and headache to drowsiness, severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, racing pulse, pounding heartbeat, anxiety, or severe shortness of breath. Altitude sickness can affect all ages. Symptoms can vary across the spectrum of mild to very severe, even deadly.
Try to rest your first day at altitude. It is best to ascend slowly. Sleeping overnight at a slightly lower altitude (4,000 – 5,000 feet) can be helpful in the acclamation process. True, complete acclamation takes 90 days.
Drink plenty of water! Start before you leave on vacation. Attempt to consume ½ your body weight in fluid oz of water every 24 hours for 1-2 days prior to arrival, and while at high altitude. If you have a health condition that limits your water intake, consult your practitioner regarding your travel plans and need for fluid consumption.
Prevent further dehydration by avoiding or limiting your alcoholic beverages and caffeine intake. Avoid Gatorade and Pedialyte as this may cause your body to retain fluid in your lungs and/or brain. An increased carbohydrate diet and using Tylenol or Advil to treat minor headaches may be helpful.
Canned oxygen and oxygen bars are NOT recommended and are NOT considered treatment for medical conditions. Using nonprescribed oxygen instead of seeking medical attention has been known to fatally delay life-saving medical treatment. If you believe you may need supplemental oxygen, seek medical treatment as soon as possible.
If you feel your symptoms are more serious than “mild,” seek medical attention or be seen at MSMC! There are medications and treatments available to help you feel better while on vacation! More serious forms of altitude sickness include a headache that does not resolve with increased water intake and over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen; nausea with vomiting; inability to sleep (or waking up 'gasping' for breath, or sleeping 'all the time'); severe shortness of breath (walking approximately 10 feet and having to sit down because you are out of breath); confusion or changes in personality.
If you are planning a vacation to Red River from a lower elevation and want some advice about how the elevation may affect your long-term conditions, feel free to call us. If applicable, please see your cardiologist or pulmonologist for medical clearance before ascending to elevation.
Changes in level of consciousness or behavior, coughing up bloody or pink sputum, blue mouth or fingernails, or chest pain should immediately seek emergency medical treatment by dialing 9-1-1! Red River NM does have an ambulance service and they are equipped with the best trained staff I have ever had the privilege to work with! You will be in excellent hands should you need them!
Altitude sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) are serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions!