Smart Travel

How To Prevent Altitude Sickness

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First, it is important to note that altitude sickness can effect anyone. Age, sex, weight and health are not a factor. In fact, even a seasoned athlete can get altitude sickness if they are poorly hydrated and moving up in elevation quickly.

I was born and raised in Colorado and have experienced altitude sickness firsthand. My husband and I took a day trip to Estes Park via Trail Ridge Road from Denver. We started at 5,130 ft, then climbed to 12,183 ft, then 7,522 ft for a late lunch in Estes Park, then down to 4,984 ft for dinner in Longmont. My biggest mistake: I drank about 16 oz of water that day.

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Altitude sickness feels like a hangover. I would put it more elegantly if I could. I felt fine for most of the day. I was enjoying our time in the mountains and didn’t experience any symptoms until we were heading down in elevation.

5,000 ft, that’s when the headache set in. It wasn’t a normal, annoying headache is was a need to lie die in a dark, quiet room headache. I was experiencing light and noise sensitivity.

Next came the nausea, which set in about an hour after the headache. I had lost my appetite and felt like the only thing I could stomach was water, lots and lots of water. I had an unquenchable thirst and probably asked the server to refill my cup a dozen times.

Honestly, at this point all I wanted to do was get home and go to sleep but we were out to dinner with my parents so I did my best to hold it together. Once we were on the road heading back home, the nausea came in waves.  We pulled over several times but I never vomited. That night, I fell asleep quickly and thankfully didn’t have any symptoms lasting into the next day.


Altitude sickness is not caused by a decrease in oxygen in the air, rather a decrease of pressure pushing oxygen into the lungs. Your body cannot get all of the oxygen it needs so you need to breathe faster. Typically, this begins to happen at around 8,000 ft. For reference, Denver’s elevation ranges from 5,130 to 5,690 ft.

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As I said, not drinking enough water was my downfall. It was also pretty dumb of us to climb to that elevation and down in a matter of a few hours without snacks, water or even a short break. We literally drove up to 12,000 ft, took some photos and drove back down.

If you are coming to Colorado you are likely planning a trip to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Here are a few tips to consider to help prevent altitude sickness:

  • It takes about 24 to 36 hours to acclimate. If possible, stay below 7,000 ft for the first day and avoid strenuous exercise. You can reduce your chances of altitude sickness by 25-50% if you stay below 7,000 ft overnight before moving up to 8,000 ft or higher.
  • Drink lots of water, at least twice as much as you normally drink. Some say that 20 drops of ginger liquid in a half a cup of water can also greatly help altitude sickness.
  • Avoid alcohol and coffee as much as possible. These beverages dehydrate and that is the last thing you need when climbing in elevation.
  • Eat broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes and tomatoes. These all will replenish your electrolytes and balance your salt intake.
  • Avoid salty, heavy, oily junk foods, especially while ascending.

Have you ever experienced altitude sickness? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

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0 thoughts on “How To Prevent Altitude Sickness

  1. Oh yes we had that headache too when we were in Cusco. We had taken pills (it will make you head for the loo more) for that initially and stopped thinking we have acclimatized. But noooooo! And the same in Tibet too….never underestimate how it can truly ruin a holiday. Lucky for us we recovered quick, otherwise would have been wasted journeys!

    1. That’s a really helpful tip! Even if you take medication beforehand, you still may not be acclimated after a couple of days. Definitely worth noting for future trips! Thanks!

  2. I’ve had altitude sickness in Flagstaff, AZ. The headache was my first symptom and it was crippling! Then the nausea. A shop keeper told me what it was and told me to drink A LOT of water. I had it until we went home down to lower altitude😞

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