Let me start out here by saying that I am not a doctor nor am I recommending any specific treatment. With that said, I have suffered with Altitude Sickness (Also called Mountain Sickness) for over 35 years. This is what I have learned and what I have done to deal with it.

Using-a-portable-oxygen-conWhile I spend a considerable amount of time in the mountains for both business and pleasure I live in the lowlands at about 1000 ft above sea level. Starting in my early 20’s, I would get these debilitating headaches and nausea every time I went skiing in the mountains. I never knew what it was until my wife rushed me to the hospital when we were skiing at Copper Mountain. I thought I was having a brain embolism I was in so much pain. It was then that I was told it was Altitude Sickness. This was 25 years ago and I had never heard of it before that. Over the last 25 years I have learned a number of ways to control and avoid this ski trip bumming affliction.

First let me describe some of the most common symptoms of Altitude Sickness:

  • Headaches- Mild to severe
  • Nausea  – Can also include vomiting
  • Lightheadedness or feeling dizzy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Overall Blah feeling – Blah is a technical term

Altitude-Sickness-Diagram

If you seem to suffer from these symptoms on your ski trips, it might be a good idea to go see a doctor and ask about Altitude Sickness.  Here are some of the techniques I have used to control Altitude Sickness:

  1. Drink tons of water, starting a day or two before you head up to the mountains.
  2. Avoid drinking any alcohol the 1st day or two. Drink very moderately after that. If symptoms return stop drinking alcohol completely.
  3. Take it easy the 1st day. Don’t ski super aggressive and don’t stay at high altitude (above 10,000 feet) for too long.
  4. Ask your doctor for a prescription of Diamox. Diamox is a diuretic and I have no idea how it works but it works very well as a preventative and to a lesser the degree as a cure.
  5. Some doctors will also prescribe, believe it or not, Viagra. I guess it increases blood flow to your brain as well as other parts of your body. I tried it once but didn’t like how it made me feel.
  6. portable-oxygen-concentratoIf none of these give you the relief you need then the best solution is probably an Oxygen Breathing device. There are two ways to do this; you can get a prescription from your doctor for oxygen and then contact an Oxygen Tank rental service where you are going to drop off a tank where you are staying. The other option is to rent or purchase a Portable Oxygen Concentrator. This is a device that pulls oxygen out of the air and delivers it just like an oxygen tank.  They weigh about 5-8 lbs. You can rent one at a local medical device store or you can rent them online.

I had done the tank rental numerous times but I got tired of the hassle.  So I decided to try renting the oxygen concentrator for a ski trip to Chile where we slept at above 10,000 feet. It worked great so I decided to purchase it. The cost was a hefty $3,000, but considering the number of times I’m at altitude and the fact that I will have it for years, it made sense for me not to feel miserable when I ski. I pack it in my luggage and use it for about 30-60 minutes in the morning before I ski and again 30-60 minutes after I ski or in the evening before I go to sleep. It works great and now I can feel good while I ski and even have a few drinks without feeling awful.

Please keep in mind that I am not a medical professional and for serious problems you should see a doctor.  These are just some tips that have worked for me.

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