What is high altitude, exactly?

Well, high altitude for you depends on where your home is!

If you fly into Denver from sea level, you might be more susceptible to problems with the mile high elevation. However, If you are visiting in the mountains and are used to a little altitude, say 4,000 feet (about 1,219 meters,) then chances are your body will acclimate somewhat faster and you’ll have fewer issues with altitude sickness.

The altitude in Colorado and the mountain regions usually presents no problems for visitors from lower altitudes. The vast majority of tourists and visitors who come here are fine with Colorado’s elevation.

And, with some easy, preventive strategies, your pleasant tour vacation will not be interrupted at all.

Did you know that Colorado is the highest state in the United States of America?

The Mile High City, has 17% less oxygen than cities at sea level! So, if you come here and feel a little breathless, it might just be the spectacular scenery, or you might experience some symptoms of altitude sickness. You could feel a little dizzy, or lightheaded, or maybe have a slight headache. Happily, most folks don’t even notice any problems with elevation, and there are ways to prepare for and prevent problems with altitude, even before you step off that airplane at Denver International Airport, or disembark from your motorcoach.

Susceptibility to altitude sickness does not seem to be related to specific factors, like physical condition or age, or even the altitude level at home. Some folks just get it and some don’t!

Travelers might have mild symptoms at 5,280 feet (about 1,609 meters) above sea level, as well as at altitudes of 10,00 feet (3,048 meters) and higher. Giving yourself or your group a little time to acclimatize before heading up to a ski area, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mt. Evans, or Pikes Peak is a good idea.

After a day or two and a good night’s sleep you should ready to go!

What Causes Altitude Sickness?

Okay—here’s a little science on the whole topic.

Essentially, because barometric pressure decreases as altitude increases, every breath you take at higher elevations has fewer oxygen molecules than the same breath taken at sea level.

In order for your body to adjust to having less oxygen, your respiration and pressure in the pulmonary arteries will increase and your body will produce more red blood cells to carry oxygen. Some peoples’ bodies adjust to this change easier and faster than others.

What Are The Symptoms?

Altitude Sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) usually develops gradually, so if you pay attention and manage any symptoms properly, they can be avoided altogether.

The symptoms, ease after about two days, but if they don’t, it is essential that you don’t ascend to an even higher elevation. In rare cases, there is supplemental oxygen available. At the summit of Pikes Peak, for instance, there are trained staff who will administer an oxygen treatment.

We do want you to remember, however, that in all the years our Colorado Tour Guides and A Guide Out West have accompanied individuals and groups to the top of Pikes Peak, we have NEVER lost anyone or needed emergency help. We take it slow, follow a few easy rules about adjusting to the altitude, and keep an eye on any symptoms that may occur.

Here is what you need to know about watching for symptoms, which may include:

headache- nausea and/or vomiting- dizziness- Tiredness, insomnia or difficulty sleeping- loss of appetite- shortness of breath and/or racing heartbeat

How can you prepare and prevent altitude sickness?

First of all, you don’t need A Guide Out West to tell you that a little common sense about high altitude goes a long way. Adjusting to elevation is actually fairly easy and there are lots of helpful things you can do.

Our best advice to travelers is to just TAKE IT SLOW! Take it easy! If you over-exert yourself during the first day or so of your visit, you might feel very tired and sluggish, which keeps you from having that great vacation you have anticipated.

And, our second-best advice is to keep hydrated.

Since fluid loss contributes to acclimatization problems, just keep in mind that drinking extra fluids while at altitude and staying properly hydrated is almost like magic!

Sometimes our passengers report that they have had plenty of fluids … whiskey, and martinis and our famous Colorado beers!

Very funny, but thinking that any fluids will help with those pesky high altitude symptoms, is not correct, nor is it very wise.

Many medical professionals believe that water, and only water, really does the trick, and that is our experience, too. We make it a practice to always carry bottled water onboard our motorcoach tours and we urge our passengers to sip and stay hydrated throughout the day.

We know … 4 quarts (3.8 liters) of water every day sounds like a lot, but you’ll be happy that you have followed our advice when you feel great and you are ready to roll. Keep in mind, too that Denver is not really in the mountains—we are considered to be “high desert” and like most other deserts, it is extremely dry, with very low humidity.

That’s why you see so many locals carrying water around with them, in bags, purses, briefcases, backpacks and ski jackets!

Once you arrive in Colorado
it’s really very easy to adjust
to our high altitude!

Our Best Top Ten Tips:

  1. Remember to take it slow! Give you body a chance to have a great time in Colorado! The vast majority of our visitors and passengers never even have a problem with high altitude.

  2. Keep hydrated—sip, drink and gurgle your water!

  3. Get a little extra sleep the first night or two. Check with your own medical professional prior to your vacation regarding your personal medications/prescriptions. Physicians sometime prescribe high-altitude drugs, but they are usually for those who ascend to extremely high altitudes, such as on a mountain climbing expedition or when trekking.

  4. Alcohol definitely does not help and a hangover at high altitude can be awful! Smoking doesn’t feel too good at altitude, either. Try limiting it if possible.

  5. If you feel a little dizzy or light-headed, just rest for a few minutes and put your head down between your knees. Tell your Tour Guide immediately if you are experiencing symptoms you believe to be serious.

  6. If symptoms increase despite your best efforts, you may need to quickly descend to a lower altitude.

  7. Like Granny used to say, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

  8. And finally our personal favorite ... add some calories to your normal diet, especially some carbohydrates. Yep! Many athletes who come to the high country swear by some fettuccini alfredo or a big plate of pasta the night before their sports event!

    We don’t know if that really works, but here’s your chance to indulge in some “vacation food” that will actually make you feel great! Don’t worry, you’ll be walking a lot and jumping on and off the motorcoach at photo stops, which will take care of those extra calories.

  9. Remember that the risk of sunburn is increased at high altitude, so make sure you have sunscreen, lip balm and sunglasses. Moisturizing lotion is a must!

Okay, it’s really only Our Nine Best Tips …
... must be all that water we've been sippin' lately.

Please Note: Information about high altitude sickness prevention when traveling to Colorado and the western statesdoes not in any way replace the advice of qualified medical professionals.

A Guide Out West disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this high altitude information.

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