The Impact of High Altitude - Presented by Photography by Brenda Colwell
The lowest point in Telluride is 8,750 feet. Altitude sickness symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. While it does not happen to everyone, it can happen to anyone and especially if you are visiting from a lower altitude. To reduce the chances drink plenty of water in the weeks before you arrive, limit your alcohol intake especially the night before, and if you have any health concerns, consult your doctor.
Altitude Sickness or Colorado Altitude sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness) is a common health concern for those on a Colorado ski vacation, particularly those who usually reside at sea level. This is not surprising considering that Colorado has the highest average elevation of any of the states. Colorado also has over 50 fourteeners (mountains with peaks higher than 14,000 feet), and the majority have an elevation of greater than 8,000 feet.
Symptoms of Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can occur above 2,400 meters or 8,000 feet. Although in some people it can also present at lower elevations. Altitude sickness affects about 40% of people to some degree at a moderate altitude (about 8,000 feet). Symptoms may become evident about 6 hours after ascent, but sometimes as quickly as one hour. Headache is the most common altitude sickness symptom, which will occur in the presence of other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, and insomnia. Exertion such as hiking, skiing or snowboarding aggravates the symptoms.
The onset and severity of altitude sickness symptoms are dependent on factors such as the altitude, the rate of ascent, physical activity, dehydration, alcohol consumed, and individual propensity to altitude sickness. Recent acclimatization at lower elevations is also a major factor with Acute Mountain Sickness, in other words, coming up to altitude slowly helps.
Prevention is the best cure. Ascend slowly if you can and acclimatize at a moderate elevation before proceeding to a higher altitude. Take it relatively easy for the first couple of days, increase non-alcoholic fluids (drink lots of water), minimize or eliminate alcohol intake, and avoid moderate and high dose sleeping tablets.
Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a prescription medicine that can be taken a day or two prior to ascent to speed up the process of acclimating. The little blue pill Viagra is also effective in preventing altitude sickness, so long as you can cope with the interesting side-effects! Aspirin can also assist with prevention of mild AMS.
Treatment for mild altitude sickness includes rest and fluids, with symptoms likely to resolve within one to two days. Descent is a very effective treatment, and for moderate or severe illness, medical treatment should be sought. This may include oxygen intake (you can find that at some local spas, rental companies and The Medical Center.
High altitude also increases the predisposition to sun burn as well as snow blindness (sunburnt eyes), and the risk increases substantially due to the reflection of the sun off the snow. You may need to wear really high SPF sunscreen, polarized sunglasses and a cap (when you don’t have your helmet on!).
Nose bleeds are another potential problem related to the altitude. The use of a vaporizer may assist, and these are available at some of the top hotels.
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Brenda Colwell is local Telluride Photographer and a travel photographer/