Overcoming Altitude Sickness

Kimberly Viruet Travel 4 Comments

altitude sickness

Altitude sickness, or Hypoxemia, is a very real thing. It happens when there is less oxygen in the air, thus reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood. Example of some cities high above sea level include La Paz, Quito, Cusco, and Lhasa. Symptoms include nausea, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a fast heart rate. Sounds like the perfect hangover.

It’s no secret that I suffer from migraines, which made me a little hesitant about visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu in the first place. Cusco is over 11,000 feet above sea level, while Machu Picchu is around 8,000, though the Machu Picchu Mountain hike will get you over 10,000 feet.

For some people, altitude sickness can hit them immediately, and for others it might take a couple of hours to set in. My symptoms included a little nausea during the first hour, but mostly a fast heart rate and a pounding headache. I was hit with it the second I stepped off the plane, while Joel flew out of the hotel excitedly to take photos of Cusco, talk to locals and even had time to get spit on by a llama before his altitude sickness set in. Everyone takes altitude sickness differently. Some people aren’t even phased and others must use an oxygen tank until their blood oxygen is back at a sufficient level. And believe it or not, fitness really has little to do with how you will be affected.

How do you prepare for altitude sickness?

Well, there are two main ways. One, ask your doctor for a prescription. “Diamox” is usually the Rx of choice and you must begin taking it 48 hours before you even ascend to that altitude or you can acclimate naturally. However, if you know me, I try to do everything as organically as possible.

Recommendations to acclimate naturally:

  • HYDRATE. Drink a lot of water before, during and after your descent. To stay hydrated, it is best to avoid caffeine and especially, alcohol.

  • CHLOROPHYLL. Buy a tiny bottle of chlorophyll and put about 18 drops in your water twice a day. This helps to build red blood cells. Get chlorophyll drops on Amazon or your local Whole Foods market.

altitude sickness, chlorophyll

  • GREEN VIBRANCE is a supplement I have been taking for years. It’s packed with nutrients AND it’s just a little something extra to keep your health and energy up. Picture shown is in bulk, but you can purchase individual packets, perfect for on-the-go. You can get Green Vibrance on Amazon.

altitude sickness, green vibrance

  • VITAMINS. I am not sure how much vitamins really help, but I like to pack a little B12 and iron just for some extra strength and some immune boosting as you can get run down travelling and waking up early.

  • ADVIL. Not quite natural, but is a must if you’re headache prone like me.

  • OXIMETER. This will measure your oxygen levels and your heart rate. It will help you to track your acclimation progress, your status and let you know when you need to cool it and take the exploring down a notch. Normal pulse oxygen ratings should be between 95-100. And normal resting heart rate should be 60-100 beats a minute. We actually saw our oxygen levels drop below the 80’s, that means CHILL OUT! Amazon has many oximeters to choose from, I recommend their best seller.

altitude sickness, oximeter

  • COCA TEA. Peruvians swear by it! You will find it everywhere and most definitely in your hotel lobby. Have a cup in the morning and afternoon.

altitude sickness, coca tea

  • TAKE IT SLOW! You should just relax on your first day upon arriving at a high elevation. Leisurely explore your nearby area, but don’t push yourself on hikes and treks.

The first day might be a little difficult, but if you follow these recommendations you will likely feel much better the next day. And worst case, many hotels in high altitude cities have oxygen tanks on hand!

Comments 4

  1. Jay

    Enjoyed your post. One of the places I want to visit is Machu Picchu. I had not thought about some of these issues. Thank you. Looking forward to the stunning pictures on your site.

  2. Pingback: Essential Peru: Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu | Traveller Lifestyle

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