Feeling sick at high altitude? Doctor’s advice is to just get down
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — A 20-year-old woman from Pennsylvania died almost two weeks ago on her way to Conundrum Springs after suffering from acute altitude sickness, according to her mother.
The elevation of Collegeville, Pennsylvania — where the young woman went to college — is 207 feet. Conundrum Creek trailhead is at 8,765 feet. The endpoint of the hot springs is at 11,222 feet.
Dr. Ben Peery, an emergency medical physician at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said effects of altitude sickness are most common at elevations over 8,500 feet. When he practiced in Summit County, Peery said he saw more cases than here, but its not unheard of.
The more mild symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, cough and shortness of breath. Altitude sickness could lead to high-altitude pulmonary edema — where fluid enters the lungs, causing the patient to be unable to take in enough oxygen.
Just because the 20-year-old woman was from out of state does not mean locals are immune to altitude sickness.
“People can live at high elevation for years, around the Roaring Fork Valley, and go to Mt. Sopris and be sick,” Peery said.
The main treatment for altitude sickness is simple: get to lower elevation.
“If you feel bad at high elevation, you need to just get down,” Peery said.
Gamow bags are the other treatment option, if available. The inflatable bags are big enough to fit a person in and simulate lower altitude conditions.
In preparing to visit places of high altitude, Peery recommends taking Diamox (Acetazolamide is the generic name) up to a week before the trip.
“Hydration status really helps,” Peery added.