Avoiding the headache of a High Country vacation | SummitDaily.com

Avoiding the headache of a High Country vacation

pitkin county correspondent

Your mountain vacation: Long runs, soft snow, breathtaking views, cozy nights in front of a fire, gourmet food ” and a headache?

Restless nights, shortness of breath and a pounding headache weren’t in the vacation plans, but one out of four or five High Country visitors end up with symptoms of altitude sickness severe enough to interfere with their activities, said Dillon physician Jim Oberheide.

It’s normal for visitors to feel shortness of breath ” especially during activity. It’s also normal to urinate more, experience a change in breathing patterns during sleep, wake up more frequently and have strange dreams, according to a Web site written by Dr. Thomas E. Dietz, a specialist in emergency and wilderness medicine.

But 20-30 percent of people suffer from altitude sickness, according to a 1980s study at Keystone Resort, said Dr. James Bachman of the Summit Medical Center.

At elevations above 6,000-8,000 feet, the body needs to adjust to the decreased availability of oxygen. Every breath contains fewer molecules of oxygen, resulting in less oxygenated blood. The lack of oxygen in the blood causes extra blood to rush to the head, often causing headache, nausea and shortness of breath, Bachman said.

It can take a few days to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen.

Symptoms of altitude sickness include a headache with any one of more of the following:

– loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting

– fatigue or weakness

– dizziness or light-headedness

– difficulty sleeping

– confusion

– staggering gait.

Flu-like symptoms usually start within the first three days and end by the fourth.

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