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High Altitude Health

Altitude Sickness

The Effects of Altitude
At elevations of 7,000 feet or more above sea level, decreased oxygen and humidity levels in the air can cause a variety of symptoms among those who are not acclimated.

Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness occurs when the body can't get enough oxygen from the air. This often happens when people travel quickly from sea level to high altitudes.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
• Headache
• Fatigue or weakness
• Insomnia
• Dizziness or light-headedness
• Loss of appetite
• Nausea
• Shortness of breath

Other symptoms may include persistent rapid pulse, drowsiness, and swelling of the hands and feet. Symptoms usually disappear within tow to four days as the body acclimates. Extreme altitude sickness may result in life-threatening conditions caused by fluid accumulation in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or swelling of the brain (cerebral edema). If you experience severe symptoms or are feeling seriously ill, go to lower altitude immediately and seek medical attention.

Reducing the Severity of Symptoms
• Acclimate slowly by spending a day or two at 5,000-7,000 feet before attempting activities at higher elevations
• Drink extra fluids (an additional two to three quarts of non-alcoholic liquid per day)
• Avoid alcohol and caffeine for the first 48-72 hours
• Avoid smoking
• Get plenty of rest and avoid over-exertion while your body acclimates
• Sleep at an elevation below 7,000 feet
• For headache, take mild analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve)
• Prescription medication that can reduce the severity of symptoms are also available

Elevation of Common Destinations in the Area
• Durango: 6,512 feet
• Mesa Verde: 7,000-8,000 feet
• Silverton: 9,318 feet
• Durango Mountain Resort: Base, 8,793 feet; Summit, 10,822 feet

If you need to seek medical attention for altitude sickness:

Mercy Urgent Care at Durango Mountain Resort
Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m., every day
10 Purgatory Blvd., Durango, CO 81301
(970) 259-4553

Mercy Regional Medical Center's Emergency Care
Open 24 hours, every day
1010 Three Springs Blvd., Durango, CO 81301
(970) 764-2100


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