Quandary: Oxygen cans, altitude sickness and home remedies (Q&A column)
Are cans of oxygen good for altitude sickness?
O. So Deprived
In a word, no. I know, it seems so easy, pop into 7/11 grab some Cheetos, a bottle of water and a can of oxygen then you’re ready to take on the world. But alas, just as Cheetos can’t help with nutrients, a can of oxygen can’t substitute for the stuff you get from a doctor. After speaking with Dr. David Grey of Breckenridge’s High Altitude Mobile Physicians, this old goat found you can sum up this can of air with one other word too, “rip-off.”
Don’t get me wrong, there are times that a little hit of air is all you need to get over the next peak or at least over last night’s beers, but if you are suffering from something more severe than your own stupidity, Loaf N’ Jug isn’t the right pharmacy to hit up. The placebo effect can also be very powerful. Maybe you are clinging to that can like it’s a golden ticket and you’re feet from Willy Wonka, but realize it might not be the miracle you were hoping for. Trust me, this old goat has bought more than my fair share of snake oil, and sometimes just feeling like you’re doing something is enough to make you better, but more often, it’s not enough.
As the good doctor explained, altitude sickness is a night time problem. He remarked, “If everyone who came to Summit went to Denver to sleep we wouldn’t see altitude problems.” Simple enough solution, but not the most fun sounding vacation. Altitude sickness creeps into your life if you happen to venture up in altitude too quickly causing a shock to your system and sending your body into defensive mode. When this happens your body conserves oxygen by sending less to the nonessentials like your gut, muscle and bone. Clearly, your body doesn’t understand vacation or it would prioritize the belly over the mind, but short of evolving, we’re not going to be able to solve that problem.
We all know vacation and gluttony go hand-and-hand so when your oxygen-deprived belly is met with all the wonderful food and drinks our fine county can offer and you head home to slip into a food coma, your body just gets worn out. Passive-flow oxygen, what you get by prescription, can be used throughout the night meaning you’ll wake up in far better shape. Cans of oxygen, oxygen bars and the like just aren’t available at that critical time. Unless you want to duct tape a can to your face for the night and somehow get it to spray you at intervals, but that doesn’t sound very restful either.
The other issue with using a can of oxygen is you might just be masking the symptom of a larger problem. In one instance the doc shared, a man was given a can of oxygen to help when he was suffering from shortness of breath at around 9 p.m., it worked for a short time, but the professional was called in at 4 a.m. when things got worse, and the gentleman ended up undergoing bypass surgery. Basically, just like you wouldn’t try to take out your own appendix don’t try to self-administer oxygen either. If you get to a place where you really need oxygen call in the big guns and find out what’s really going on instead of dropping cash and sucking on a can.
However, if altitude sickness is all you’re worried about, it can be avoided completely if you just do a little planning. Dr. Grey recommends working on your hydration long before you get to the mountains — at least a week — to make sure you’re coming in the best shape possible. Just don’t over do it: Once your urine is clear, you’re in the clear.
Also, try coming up slowly. Maybe spend a couple days in Denver if you are coming from lower elevations, and once you do get here, give yourself a chance. Don’t overindulge in those first couple days and work on keeping a steady, healthy diet. If you need more information, call someone other than a goat, you know, like your doctor.
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