Last month, I took a trip to Machu Picchu, and as soon as we got
out of the airplane, my husband and I immediately experienced
altitude sickness, known as soroche
in Peru. We were aware that this can occur at heights of 8,000 feet
(2,500 m) above sea level, but were not ready for the symptoms. We
began to feel swollen, without breath, accelerated heartbeat,
dizzy, and more.
Although the symptoms may vary from person to person, there are
several common symptoms associated with altitude sickness. These
- Poor sleep
- Loss of appetite
Most people who find themselves afflicted with altitude sickness
describe feeling drunk. For me, the only remedy was to drink tea
and try to rest as much as possible.
There is really no good way to combat altitude sickness, and it
can strike even the fittest, healthiest traveler. As soon as you
pass the 8,000 feet mark, you are at risk of acute mountain
sickness (AMS), the mildest and most common form of the
Even more severe forms also exist: high altitude pulmonary edema
(HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Both can occur when
a person nears 8,000 feet, but they are more common at heights of
about 12,000 feet (3,600 m) and higher.
There is no way to know beforehand if you are susceptible to
altitude sickness. According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "how a traveler has
responded to high altitude previously is the most reliable guide
for future trips, but is not infallible."
Although altitude sickness took me by surprise and was certainly
unpleasant, I don't regret my trip to Peru. It was worth every
step, and I learned a little something in the meantime. The
following tip may help you better prepare and ensure you stay as
health as possible:
- Go slowly. A slow ascent is always the best option. Whenever
possible, give your body time to adjust to the altitude. Proper
acclimatization is the best defense against altitude sickness.
- Keep a low (literally and figuratively) profile at first. Take
it easy for the first 24 hours at altitude; don't overexert
yourself and don't go any higher. This is particularly important if
you're arriving by plane.
- Drink…but only water. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and sleeping
pills. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Carb load. Well, maybe not really, but eating high-carbohydrate
foods (such as pasta, potatoes, and bread) can help the body use
oxygen more efficiently and help maintain your energy levels.
If you plan on going to place of high altitude, remember
to take it slow, eat light, and rest as much as you can. And if you
do, you might just get to see this amazing view.