10 tips for avoiding altitude sickness while vacationing


The first time I traveled to high altitude while on vacation, I didn’t take the threat of altitude sickness seriously. After all, I reasoned, I had grown up in the mountains, and knew how to enjoy myself in the thinner air. But I had been living at low altitude for years, and the first time I exited my mountain condo at Keystone Resort Colorado for a morning jog, I suffered. At first, I worried my poor performance meant I was terribly out-of-shape, but the persistent headache and queasy stomach I endured the rest of the day told another story: I was suffering from altitude sickness.


When I returned for a high mountain vacation with my kids, I had renewed passion for avoiding altitude sickness! We guzzled water pre and during our trip, ate and slept well, and had a great time. Before you head to high elevation with your kids, read the following tips from Dr. Josh Brown of Santa Fe’s Internal Medicine Specialists. (Yes, Santa Fe is at high elevation!)

  • Start Exercising Now: If your trip includes strenuous physical activity, start an exercise plan that includes extra cardio activity for the month or so prior to your visit.
  • Stay Hydrated: Begin drinking extra water a day or two before arriving at your destination and continue to stay well hydrated throughout your trip.
  • Limit Caffeine and Alcohol: Try to avoid or limit beverages that contribute to dehydration.
  • Eat Foods High in Potassium: Foods such as broccoli, bananas, avocado, cantaloupe, celery, greens, bran, chocolate, granola, dates, dried fruit, potatoes, and tomatoes will help you replenish electrolytes by balancing salt intake.
  • Take Ibuprofen: Recent studies show that altitude sickness can be effectively prevented with this common and inexpensive over-the-counter medicine.
  • Plan for Trouble Sleeping: It is safe to assume that you will have difficulty sleeping, particularly during the first night in a higher altitude. Take it easy and allow for extra time to rest.
  • Climb High, Sleep Low: This mantra is especially important if you are hiking or camping at elevations above 10,000 feet. If you can, arrange the itinerary so that there are gradual increases in elevation spread throughout your trip.
  • Wear Sunscreen: Remember that higher altitude means less atmosphere to filter the sun so there is a much higher chance of sunburn compared to sea level. Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or more even in the winter. 
  • Know the Symptoms: Altitude sickness can cause loss of appetite; fatigue or weakness; dizziness or light-headedness; pins and needles; shortness of breath upon exertion; persistent rapid pulse; drowsiness; and peripheral edema (swelling of hands, feet, and face). Contact your doctor if your symptoms are severe or don’t clear up after a couple days.
  • Consult With Your Doctor: People who have had serious bouts of altitude sickness in the past should check with their doctor or an online pharmacist, like The Independent Pharmacy, about prescription medications, like Diamox, that can help alleviate symptoms. Those who have significant heart problems should also check with their doctor before traveling as higher altitudes can cause an increase in blood pressure for a few days. Be aware that those who wear oxygen, have lung problems or have difficulty breathing may experience additional complications at high altitude.

Enjoy staying and playing at high altitude destinations with your kids this summer!

Tips courtesy of Dr. Josh Brown, used with permission.