Altitude Sickness? Here’s My Prescription (Eucerin Giveaway, too)

Crested Butte, February 2011

Here’s a disturbing number: 20%. As in more than 20% of all ski vacations in the Rocky Mountains wash out, for at least a few days, because of altitude sickness (see source below).

Can you imagine? You’ve planned your vacation. You’ve gone through the hassle of packing your stuff and your kids’ stuff (hopefully your spouse can pack for him or herself). You’ve arranged and prebought tickets, lessons, lodging and you’ve either loaded the car or you’ve schlepped through security at the airport. You’re on holiday!

And then, you arrive in the Rockies and you get sick. Do you have a cold? Or altitude sickness?

The Symptoms

With mild, typical altitude sickness here’s what you may experience:

Headache, weakness/exhaustion, loss of appetite, dizziness and fitful sleeping.

You might feel great the first day in the mountains and then get sick on day two or three. In many cases you may be able to power through, but when you (or your kids) become too uncomfortable the ski vacation starts washing out.

Image courtesy colloidialsilversecrets.blogspot.com

Why Does Altitude Do This?

Altitude sickness occurs when you gain altitude too quickly. For example, when you fly from sea level to an airport above 8,000 feet. Even flying into Denver and then immediately driving to your destination high in the Colorado Rockies may trigger symptoms.

As I’m sure you know, there is less oxygen at higher altitudes. Until your body adjusts, it can’t get the oxygen it needs. Luckily after a few days, most people acclimatize.

What the Experts Recommend

According to WebMD, if you get sick the best treatment is to descend to a lower altitude for a few days. If that’s unrealistic, and your symptoms are mild, rest and limited activity are recommended.

Drink a lot of water, no alcohol and take plenty of over-the-counter pain medications for headaches. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, get help. If your symptoms get worse (inability to walk in a straight line, confusion) get help. Altitude sickness can be serious.

No matter how fit your are, or where you're from, exertion at altitude can have it's effects.

How To Prevent Altitude Sickness

If you are going to an altitude above 8,000 feet, try to spend a night at a lower altitude before going higher. For example, stop one night in Denver or Salt Lake before heading up to the resort. This can make a huge difference.

Drink a lot of water. Staying hydrated is especially important in the dry Rocky Mountain climate. Drink water and then drink some more. Make sure your kids are drinking a lot of water too. Drink water before you leave home and drink en route. Ski with a camelbak or take water breaks during the day. Make your own recovery drink with Emergen-C or a product like Acli-Mate which is specifically formulated to help fight the effects of altitude.

Eat a lot of carbs. Breads, cereal, grains, pasta, but probably not beer, at least for the first couple of days.

Sleep lower than you ski. While that VRBO home high above Telluride Mountain Village might indeed have gorgeous views, sleeping over 10,000 feet may not be the best idea. (True story, we have friends with just such a home. They bought an oxygen concentrator for their guests to use. Most VRBO homes probably don’t provide the concentrator.)

My Advice: Humidify

Despite being Colorado natives and living at a moderately high altitude, we’ve all had altitude sickness. Sometimes, just going up a few thousand feet can trigger it.

So, in addition to the above advice, I also recommend using the humidifier in your condo, home or hotel room. You know, the one that sits in the closet and takes up the space where you’d like to put your ski boots. While not every accommodation has humidifiers, more and more do. If you can’t find one in your room, ask. Chances are the front desk has them stocked.

We so believe in the power of the humidifier that when our boys were ski racing and we spent every weekend at a different resort, a plastic reservoir humidifier was as essential as the skis and the waxing table.

While a humidifier may not completely stave off altitude sickness (the caveats to avoid exertion and alcohol are valid, if perhaps unrealistic, on a ski vacation), it can’t hurt. And if one of you comes down with a cold, you’ve got the humidifier ready to go for that ailment as well.

Eucerin Giveaway

I am certain that when the Eucerin team included a humidifier in this month’s prize pack, they were thinking in terms of dry skin, not altitude sickness. And yes, the winter months, especially in the Rockies, will make your fingers and heels crack. It’s that dry. Adding humidity definitely helps. So does using a good, thick moisturizer and, if you do winter sports, being careful with the handwarmers. I try to never use them directly against my skin.

In addition to a Vicks Warm Mist Humidifier and Vapo Steam, one giveaway winner will receive Eucerin Calming Creme (love it! A thick moisturizer that rubs in and is good for the entire body); Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Hand Creme (perfect to rub on hands and feet just before bed to prevent cracking); and Eucerin Calming Body Wash (I was using this product before I started working with Eucerin. It leaves your skin moisturized, but not oily. Because it doesn’t foam very much, it is tempting to use more than you need. Don’t! It’s too precious to waste!)

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment here with your suggestions for beating dry skin and/or altitude sickness this winter! For an additional entry, copy your comment on the Eucerin Facebook page.

One winner will be chosen in a random drawing on Friday, November 18th at 8:00 a.m. MST. Good luck!

I am very happy to be working with Eucerin as part of their Skin First Blogger Network. As part of this effort, Eucerin provides me with skin care information, as well as skin care and wellness products. They also provide giveaways to my readers. This month, I will receive the same prize pack as the giveaway winner. Occasionally, Eucerin also offers me prizes for creative blogs and for completing a series of goals.

All opinions expressed in this post are my own and reflect exactly what I would tell my friends and family.

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Colleen!

**Source: Hackett PH (2004). High-altitude medical problems. In JE Tintinalli et al., eds., Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 6th ed., pp. 1263-1271. New York: McGraw-Hill.

© 2011, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.

Comments

  1. Amelia says

    Those symptoms are all too familiar for guests that come ski with us at Jackson Hole! Thanks for these tips. And I think the no-drinking right away thing is HUGE (and what most people mess up on!) Thanks for the giveaway – our skin is already drying up here in Wyoming! :)

  2. Zetty says

    Thank you for addressing this subject! I just ordered a bunch of Acli-Mate after reading this, as our next trip to Colorado will include my 5 and 2 1/2 yr olds, my 75 yr old in-laws, my 3 month old, who I’m nursing, and my husband, who despite skiing at altitude his whole life still doesn’t seem to get the whole “drink water not Rum” concept !!?! (admittedly, he doesn’t ever seem to get altitude sickness, which makes my argument a little weaker!) We have a lot of people at risk of altitude sickness, so I hope the Acli-Mate will help prevent the vacation washout from happening. I love your blog, and I am doing your Alpine skiing 15 min workout in the hope I will manage to ski a little despite having a fairly new baby!

    • says

      Thanks Zetty! Congratulations on your new baby! I hope the workout helps a lot! Yes, water not rum (or beer, or wine) is a hard concept to get. I think Acli-Mate is great. I hope you do too. Thanks and have fun with your extended family!

  3. says

    I have never skied but I have learned so much from your site. I am the type of set in the lodge and watch others. I look forward to using the Eucerin calming cream. Thanks for another giveaway.

  4. says

    I’ve had altitude sickness before where I couldn’t tell the ground from the sky – it can be really scary! Thanks for these tips, they are really helpful – particularly staying hydrated.

  5. Soha Molina says

    My solution is to use Monoi Oil. It’s a natural product and it’s an oil so it stays on longer and penetrates deeper. PLUS, it smells fantastic.

  6. Colleen Busch says

    I try to stay on top of Dry Skin by applying lotion on my hands and body EVERY night before bed. Thanks.

  7. Kristin Marie Haines says

    OMG!!!! My skin is SOOOOO dry and I am always looking for anything that will help. I have been trying a few of the Eucerin products and LOVING them. I want to try so much more. I put cream on my feet and wear socks to bed. I have excema and my feet and hands are always bad. I also have very sensitive skin. The socks help so much. I can’t wear gloves to bed. Just can’t do it. LOL. I have tried.

  8. Kendrah says

    In addition to drinking lots of water I use eucerin calming creme right after showering to keep my winter skin from itching.

  9. Elizabeth says

    I have dry, sensitive skin and have used Eucerin for years. My best “beat back the dry” advice is this–shower, and while still wet/damp, get that Eucerin everywhere! From face to heels, knees and especially hands, I have learned that letting the Eucerin seal in the moisture will work best, all winter long.

    After that, every time my hands get wet, I apply more Eucerin. I have winters now without skin troubles, my hands and feet look great, and winter has one less hassle!

  10. Joe G says

    We were recently in Peru at high altitudes and drinking various tea seemed to really help. Definitely lots of liquids make a difference.

  11. Christy says

    My daughter has psoriasis and LOVES the calming cream!! We used a humidifier last year for the first time while skiing – I really think it helped and I will be using again this year! Thanks for the info!!

  12. Susan says

    I live in Colorado and know first hand about how dry it is here and the altitude. Having over come the altitude sickness many years ago, I have not over come the dryness of my skin. I do use Eucerin, I use to work with a gal, who told me whenever she got sick, her Mother use to get the Eucerin out and rub her entire body down with it, saying that it made her better and also prevented her to get sick.

    While I don’t know if it does this or not I have since use Eucerin on my dry skin. It sure takes care of the winter itchies that I get. But I don’t seem to get sick as much either. Just sayin…..

  13. Sue says

    Ever since moving from a humid climate to a dry state I have to apply lotion right after every shower and before bed each night. I think exfoliating in the shower before slathering on the lotion has worked wonders for me! My skin feels like butter!

  14. says

    Coming from a high-ish altitude I thought I would be immune going to Denver. Turns out I was wrong. I had all the mild symptoms of altitude sickness and now wish I had drank more water than beer. Darned Coors factory in Golden!

  15. Jessica Bressler says

    I believe in preventing dry skin whenever possible. We live over 8000 feet and on cold, windy days, I’ll put Vaseline on my kids’ cheeks and lips before we head out to play…everything else is usually covered (but even a balaclava and goggles leave the cheeks exposed!)

  16. meredith says

    my solution is to stay hydrated, find a good moisturizer, and keep exposed skin to a minimum – im not at a high altitude here, but when the heat goes on and the air gets dry it reeks havoc on my skin.