Altitude Sickness

Visiting Colorado Springs

Because of the elevation, you might wonder if you will get Altitude Sickness while visiting Colorado. Altitude Sickness (also known as Acute Mountain Sickness) happens when your body doesn’t adjust well to lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. Although it can, Altitude Sickness generally doesn’t affect someone below 8,000 feet.

Is Altitude Sickness worse in Denver or Colorado Springs? The city of Colorado Springs is just over 6,000 feet, and Denver (The Mile High City) is 5,280 feet. It’s not likely you would suffer the effects of Acute Mountain Sickness if you were visiting either of those cities. However, many of the surrounding mountain towns (Woodland Park, Buena Vista, Vail, Winter Park, Cripple Creek and dozens of others) are near or above 8,000 feet, so be prepared and know the signs.

How long does it take to get Altitude Sickness? The symptoms don’t generally develop for six to twenty-four hours after reaching heights above 8,200 feet. It doesn’t happen often, but if you’re visiting and you do experience symptoms between 5,000 and 8,000 feet, your body will acclimate within two to three days at elevation. And if you’ve visited previously with no symptoms, that might not be indicative that you won’t get it some time in the future.

Garden of the Gods Colo Springs altitude sickness

What Causes Altitude Sickness?

Severe Acute Mountain Sickness is usually caused by ascending too rapidly. At higher elevations, a rapid change in air oxygen levels or air pressure can result in Altitude Sickness. It hits if you walk or climb too quickly, especially above 8,200 feet. Whether or not you get it depends on how fast you ascend, how high you go, if you exert energy (like exercising) at altitude. Go slowly.

Who gets Altitude Sickness? It is unknown why, but men are more prone to Acute Mountain Sickness than women. It has nothing to do with how fit you are, or if you are young or old. Approximately half the people who climb to elevations above 8,200 feet will suffer some symptoms of Altitude Sickness.

What is Treeline? In Colorado, treeline is 11,000 to 12,000 feet or more. That is the limit above which trees do not grow or survive. So if you’re taking a trip up Pikes Peak, for instance, you will pass treeline and exceed it by several thousand feet. The oxygen levels are 41% less than from where you started, so take it easy and make sure you’re well hydrated.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Observation Peak on the road up Crystal Park CO

There are many symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. Some people describe it as feeling like they have a hangover. If you’re aware and prepared before ascending, it might not be as frightening. Be sure to tell your traveling companions how you feel in case your judgment should become impaired. Although your body will compensate over a short period of time, it might try to adjust by doing the following:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of energy/lethargy
  • Lack of coordination
  • Heavy breathing/shortness of breath
  • Tired muscles
  • Brain slows down
  • Memory problems
  • Upset stomach/nausea/vomiting
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia

Treating Altitude Sickness

Again, if you’re going to altitude, it usually takes a few days for your body to adjust. If you’re visiting Pikes Peak, for instance, you’re not there for long. If you get symptoms, they will generally disappear as soon as you come down. But here are some suggestions for treating Altitude Sickness:

Beaver dam in Colo mountains
  • Don’t take elevations too rapidly
  • Lots of water (3-7 quarts a day)
  • Lots of carbs
  • Increase your potassium
  • Don’t drink alcohol or smoke or take sleeping pills
  • No strenuous exercise during first 24 hours
  • Light but high-calorie diet
  • Rest if you can
  • Diamox (aka Acetazolamide)
  • Promethazine (available without prescription)
  • Anti-nausea medicine
  • Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
  • Aspirin
  • Diuretic

Again, if your symptoms are severe, move to a lower elevation immediately. I am no medical doctor, but I find an equal combination of lavender and peppermint essential oils (I put it in a roller ball or purchase a Migrastik) rolled on the back of your neck often helps. It helps with the headache and with clearing your foggy brain.

Severe Altitude Sickness

If over-the-counter meds don’t help improve your symptoms, or your symptoms become more severe, get below 4,000 feet and seek medical attention immediately. Severe symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Trouble or inability to walk
  • Severe headache
  • Breathlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irrational behavior
  • Tightening in your chest
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Blueness of face and lips
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath even when resting
  • A cough that produces a white or pink frothy substance
  • Coma

There are few places more breathtaking than Colorado. A little preparation goes a long way to making it a wonderfully memorable experience.

And if you’re looking to purchase a home in the Pikes Peak area, be sure to text or call me. I’ve been selling real estate in Colorado Springs for decades. I’ll be happy to discuss your specific situation for finding your own little slice of heaven.

PIkes Peak and Garden of the Gods Colorado Springs

By Mimi Foster

About the Author

Mimi has received the honor of being voted one of Colorado Springs' Best Realtors five years in a row. With over two decades of experience, she is committed to making the home buying/selling process as easy and enjoyable as possible. Read Full Bio…

Helping buy and sell homes throughout Colorado Springs,
Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, and surrounding areas




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