Health effects on high altitude

Welcome to Summit County! At the high elevations of the Colorado Mountains, everyone is affected by altitude to some degree. As you go to higher altitudes, the barometric pressure decreases, the air is thinner and less oxygen is available. The air is also dryer and the ultraviolet rays from the sun are stronger. At elevations of 8,000 plus ft. your body responds by breathing faster and more deeply, resulting in shortness of breath, especial y on exertion. Many people develop mild symptoms of headache, nausea, trouble sleeping, and unusual tiredness, which we call acute mountain sickness or AMS. These symptoms usual y go away in a day or two. If symptoms are severe, persist or worsen, you should consult a doctor. A short visit to a physician may save the rest of your vacation. A more serious condition is called high altitude pulmonary edema or HAPE. This condition is recognized by a wet cough, increasing shortness of breath, and the feeling of fluid building up in your lungs. Other symptoms may include disorientation or confusion. If you feel any of these symptoms developing you need to seek medical attention immediately. HAPE is easy to treat but can be life threatening if left unattended. The effects of high altitude can be decreased by fol owing these recommendations: • Increase Fluid Intake – drink two or three times more fluid than usual, water and juices are best; adequate hydration is the key to preventing altitude il ness. You should drink enough fluids to urinate approximately every two hours. • Avoid alcohol and minimize caffeine on your day of arrival and one to two days thereafter; be very careful if consuming alcohol, and remember, at this altitude, you may be much more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and sedatives (caffeine and alcohol are dehydrating). • Decrease salt intake – salt causes your body to retain fluid (edema), which increases the severity of altitude il ness. • Eat frequent small meals high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and low in protein. • Moderate physical activity and get plenty of rest. • Medications and oxygen can help you feel much better. Diamox is a prescription drug, which prevents the unpleasant symptoms for many people. Recent experience suggests that a small dose of Diamox suffices: 125 mgs the morning before you are to arrive at altitude, again that evening, and each morning and night for two days after arrival. It is generally a wel tolerated medicine with few side effects. It should not be taken by anyone who is al ergic to the sulfa class of medicines. Some people may experience a tingling sensation in their fingers, toes and around their mouth. You may also notice a subtle change in your sense of taste, especially carbonated beverages may taste flat. As with any medication, take only as directed and discuss any potential side effects with your physician. • Studies have shown that spending 1-2 nights at a modest altitude of 5000 – 6000 ft. decreases symptoms when you go • The effects of the sun are also much stronger at high altitudes, even in cold weather! Be sure to use sunscreen of at least #15 to avoid sunburn. Distributed by: High Country Health Care High Country Health Care has clinics in Breckenridge, Frisco and Dil on. The clinics’ phone numbers are 547-9200 - Breckenridge, 668-5584 - Frisco, and 468-1003 - Dillon. St Anthony’s Summit Medical Center – critical care & trauma is located in Frisco on Highway 9


Ear, nose & throat specialtycare

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