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What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness describes a collection of symptoms that can result when you travel to an elevation much greater than you're used to. High altitude typically starts around 4900 feet or higher and most ski resorts are at elevations of 6600-11500 feet. Taos, New Mexico (where Taos Herb Company is located), is at a base elevation of 9207 feet. Altitude Sickness has two causes -- less oxygen, and a lower barometric pressure.

Higher altitude means thinner air, and thinner air means less oxygen. The further away from sea level, the lower the atmospheric pressure. Lower atmospheric pressure means that there is less air to breathe...and the less air there is to breathe, the less oxygen you get.

At the top of Mount Everest, for example, there is only 33% of the oxygen that is available at sea level, meaning you have to take three breaths to get the oxygen you would normally get with just one! You don't have to be at the top of Everest to experience altitude sickness.

What the body perceives as an oxygen-deficiency often stimulates the adrenals and increases the heart rate, and can cause one to feel out of breath, have a more rapid heartbeat, or to experience dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, weakness, lightheadedness, or a rise in blood pressure.

In addition, the body's response to a lack of oxygen often causes insomnia. This is partly because of breathing disturbances related to attempts to increase oxygen in the blood and is partly because stimulated adrenals tend to wake one up!

The lower barometric pressure also causes your body to expand. A consequence of this is that fluids may flood your tissues, causing such symptoms as swelling of the face or hands or feet, or in more severe cases even life-threatening symptoms like fluid in the lungs (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or swelling in the brain (High Altitude Cerebral Edema).

Altitude Sickness can happen to anyone -- even to the physically fit. If you live at a higher altitude long enough, you will eventually adjust, but most visitors to higher altitudes do experience some symptoms. The adjustment period can take days, weeks, or even months or years.

When journeying to a higher altitude, it is recommended that one drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and caffeine.

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