Altitude Sickness: Signs, Prevention, and Treatment

Flu Vaccine Awareness Week
December 6, 2018

Steamboat Springs attracts people from all over the world.  They come for the western culture, and the top rate restaurant scene.  They come for the concerts, they come for the hot springs, and they come for the rodeo.  But more than anything, people come to Steamboat Springs for the mountain.  Steamboat is home to one of the best slopes and the best snow in the country.  Our Champagne Powder makes for unforgettable ski vacations.  And at the relatively low elevation of 6,700 feet, most visitors can handle the elevation without spending half their trip acclimating.  However, even though we sit at a modest height, altitude sickness is still a very real concern.

At high altitudes, atmospheric pressure drops which results in lower amounts of oxygen in the air.  For people who are not acclimated, this lack of oxygen can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea, symptoms of what is commonly referred to as Altitude Sickness.  While these symptoms are more prevalent above 8,000 feet, they are still common at our elevation, especially for people who are coming up from sea level.

Some symptoms are relatively benign, such as High-Altitude Flatus Expulsion, also known as excessive gas.  Others give more cause for concern, such as excessive coughing, persistent shortness of breath, and impaired mental function, which can be symptoms of High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema or High-Altitude Cerebral Edema, both of which are life-threatening.  People with pre-existing medical conditions, such as lung disease, heart issues, and obesity, as well as those who live at lower elevations are more susceptible to altitude related illness.

If you’re visiting Steamboat be on the lookout for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Loss of Appetite.
  • Fatigue or weakness.
  • Persistent headaches.
  • Swelling in the limbs or face.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • An unsteady gait.
  • Reduced or impaired mental function.
  • Difficulty sleeping.

Usually, these symptoms will abate in the first 12 to 24 hours.  To ease this process, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and drink lots of water.  Give yourself time to acclimate before pushing yourself too hard.  If the symptoms are severe or last longer than 12 hours, you should seek medical help.

At Steamboat Emergency Center, we offer no-wait, concierge-level service.  We’re open twenty-four-seven because we want to get you feeling better as swiftly as possible, that way you can get back up on the mountain and send it.   If you have severe or persistent symptoms of Altitude Sickness, don’t hesitate to come in.