Monday, 11 November 2013

Dealing with altitude sickness

I'm writing this to help anyone travelling to an altitude and how to cope.

We went from Buenos Aires (0m above sea level) to Cuzco which is 3,400m above sea level.  Let me tell you it was tough!  Common altitude sickness symptoms include headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, difficulties breathing, nausea, vomiting.

In preparation, we took Ginkgo Biloba tablets for the 2 weeks prior to ascending.  Ginkgo is meant to be a natural alternative to western drugs (in Australia we have Diamox).  I had done some research back home and found countless stories of the side effects of Diamox.  Apparently you get really thirsty and drink bucketloads of water and need to pee heaps.  And apparently it doesn't actually help your symptoms, it just speeds up your heart rate so you can breathe more easily.  Anyway you can google yourself so I won't harp on about it.

Some research suggests Ginkgo is more effective, equal effective or not at all effective.  I figured given it's a natural plant extract it can't hurt to take it, right?

Aside from the Ginkgo, here are some other tips I have:

  • Eat lightly - eating a huge meal makes you feel terribly uncomfortable
  • Don't exert yourself physically - if you need to stop walking, stop.  If you need to sit down, sit.  
  • Drink coca tea - coca leaves come from the coca plant which produces cocaine.  Don't worry we googled it and you can't induce the psychoactive properties of cocaine from drinking tea made from coca leaves!  Most hotels will have coca leaves in the foyer - we had about 2-3 cups a day.  We even bought some coca lollies which didn't taste great.
  • Get proper sleep - and if you need to, have an afternoon nap
  • Drink lots of water
  • Don't drink coffee/black tea/Coke
  • If you can, climb altitude gradually to give your body a chance to "acclimatise" - ideally we would have gone from 0m to Lima (1,500m) then to Cuzco but I didn't know anything about altitude sickness when I planned the itinerary

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