El Alto, Bolivia (Flickr: ch images)
High above El Alto, Bolivia



Beautiful landscapes situated atop a mountain top can literally take your breath away. Travelers, especially adventure seekers disregard the effects of high altitude. Whether you're fit to run a marathon or out of shape, high altitude sickness can affect any traveler. Ignoring uncomfortable symptoms can trigger riskier health problems.

When the air is getting thinner in a low pressure region, you're in a place of high altitude. Commonly occurring after 8,000 feet (2,400m), high altitude sickness resembles flu like symptoms or a hangover. Less oxygen is available to sustain mental and physical alertness, especially after 10,000 feet (3,000m).

Your body must adjust to making more red blood cells to carry oxygen, but at lower air pressure, water evaporates faster, leading to hydration. Internal body changes are quite dramatic and can take a toll on your internal organs.

Symptoms include headaches, lack of appetite, dizziness, nosebleeds, insomnia, swelling of the hands, face and feet and diarrhea. Symptoms that are more life threatening include bronchitis symptoms, dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath when resting.

It’s impossible to avoid high altitude when landscape is inevitably, hard to escape. There are many high altitude cities in the world such as:

  • La Rinoconada, Peru (16,728 feet; 5,100m)
  • El Alto (Near La Paz), Bolivia, (13,615 feet; 4,150m)   
  • Lhasa, Tibet (12,2002 feet; 3,650m)
  • Leadville, Colorado (10,152 feet; 3,094m)

Luckily, there are many options to preventing and surviving high altitude cities.

Upon arrival, make sure to take a day of rest. Everyone is excited about being in a new city, but the worst thing to do is to feel miserable on your travels. Get a good night's sleep and try not to overexert yourself.

Acclimatization is vital to decreasing the effects of high altitude. This is the process of getting your body used to the altitude changes by gradually ascending into higher grounds. This might be difficult if your travel plans don't adjust accordingly, but if you're able to, this is a great way to adjust. Those who hike or climb are suggested to increase sleeping elevation by 1,000 feet (300m) per night.

Avoid alcohol for the first few days. Draining your body of fluids will make the high altitude sickness even worse. Instead, drink at least three large bottles of water to compensate the water loss. If you happen to be traveling in South America, countries like Bolivia and Peru make a special coca leaf tea; an ancient custom used against high altitude sickness. If used over a few days, it is known to help with breathing.

If you're looking for a prescription treatment, ask your doctor about Diamox (Acetazolamine), designed to stimulate breathing and help with high altitude sickness. Make sure to see your doctor about this with a medical evaluation as the medicine is high in sulfur, which many people are allergic to and don't even know it.

Have you suffered from high altitude sickness? How have you tried to defeat it?


Flickr: ch images

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