Below, discover the adverse symptoms that can manifest at high altitudes; and more importantly, how you can prevent them from impacting your travel plans negatively.
4 things to be aware of before traveling to high elevations
1. Altitude sickness is quite common
“Travelling to mountains at significant altitudes can make individuals susceptible to altitude sickness [due to] lower air pressure and air oxygen levels,” states Daniel Hermann, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas. If you live somewhere relatively close to sea level, your chances of experiencing acute mountain sickness (AMS) will mainly rely on the elevation of your travel destination. AMS impacts around 25 percent of individuals sleeping above 8,000 feet, and as many as 40 to 50 percent of those sleeping above 10,000. (Nevertheless, some individuals grapple with AMS at elevations starting at 6,500 feet above sea level.)
2. Rapidly ascending to high elevations can trigger symptoms
If feasible, endeavor to gradually and consistently increase your altitude as you plan your excursions. “Our bodies can adjust over a period of days or weeks to these elevations by regulating our biochemistry. However, if we swiftly transition to those elevations, you may develop medical issues, most commonly altitude sickness,” shares Dr. Hermann. By gradually acclimatizing to high elevations—perhaps by setting up at a base camp for a few days before venturing up to higher points and peaks—you can diminish your likelihood of feeling unwell or disoriented.
Per Dr. Hermann, the most common symptoms of altitude sickness involve nausea, vomiting, and headache, which are “generally mild and usually resolve within a couple of days.” Nonetheless, if you encounter more severe symptoms—such as chest tightness, intense difficulty breathing, and balance or coordination issues, he recommends seeking immediate medical attention.
3. Your digestive well-being can be affected
It’s normal to experience digestive irregularities such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea while traveling. Additionally, traveling to high altitudes can also induce intestinal barrier dysfunction. According to a 2022 review in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, abrupt exposure to high altitudes may result in heightened intestinal permeability and inflammation.
Nevertheless, it’s not all negative. The authors list specific dietary supplements that can aid in maintaining the strength of your intestinal barrier and overall digestive well-being. Even better, you may already incorporate some of them into your daily routine. These include:
- Glutamine, which fortifies tight junctions and suppresses pro inflammatory pathways
- Bovine colostrum, which can fend off stress-induced intestinal injury
- Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric), which may bolster the intestinal barrier by reducing oxidative stress
4. You’re more prone to dehydration
Reduced air pressure, lower oxygen, and more strenuous breathing at high elevations can all contribute to dehydration and water loss.
- Increasing your water intake prior to and during your trip
- Incorporating electrolyte packets into your water
While it’s beneficial to integrate these into your enhanced travel hydration regimen, it’s equally vital to be mindful of what you should restrict or abstain from. “Alcohol and caffeine are recognized for promoting dehydration,” reminds us Dr. Hermann.