If you are planning to travel to a city located in a high altitude or trekking a high mountain, you probably have heard about the Altitude Sickness, so did I, in the first time I visited Peru, but obviously, I totally ignored the warnings because I thought that my well-prepared body, treated to the finest pizzas and years of pure laziness, wouldn’t feel it…guess what? I was wrong.
If you are coming to the region of the Andes in South America, you will surely feel the altitude sickness. You don’t even need to go hiking in Peru or climb the Illimani in Bolivia. Just staying in one of the many cities of these countries that reach over 4,000 m above sea level, like Puno or La Paz, will make you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Although I only learned how to avoid altitude sickness when I was already blue, running to the bathroom every five minutes, here it goes some tips for you so that you don’t need to go through what I did when I visited Peru and Bolivia
11 Ways to Avoid Altitude Sickness
What is Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is a response from your body to both high or low altitudes where there is a huge variation in air pressure and oxygen. Although it can affect you at an altitude of 1.500 above sea level, it is more commonly felt when you reach 2.400, but of course, it varies from person to person.
The first symptom of altitude sickness is dehydration, you start feeling a severe headache, and the best way to avoid it is by drinking liters and more liters of water.
Although there is no cure for Altitude Sickness, and also, it is impossible to avoid the symptoms until your body gets used to the altitude variation, there are means to soften it.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
- Diarrhea or Constipation
- Breath difficulty
- Nose bleeding
Medicine for Altitude Sickness
Again, there is no real medicine to treat altitude sickness, however, if you wish, you can buy something call Altitude Sickness pills, it can be easily found in drugstores. An altitude sickness pill will help to soften the symptoms and to prepare your body to the high altitude.
f you feel way too uncomfortable when breathing, or if you feel like you can’t breathe at all, you can also buy oxyshots, they are exactly what the name says, Oxygen Shots, it will be covered later on in the text.
But in my opinion, the best option is the natural remedies for altitude sickness.
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Natural Remedies for Altitude Sickness
What helps the most in case of altitude sickness, are the natural teas for altitude sickness. If you are in South America, in countries like Peru and Bolivia, you will easily find Coca and Muña tea. Although these are illegal herbs in other countries, it is completely fine to buy and consume them in South American countries with high altitude.
My tip is, don’t try bringing any of these leaves or any product made of Munã or Coca with you back to your country. It will not pass in the security check of the airports, and you will probably get a headache trying to explain yourself to the police officers.
Although most people are concerned about consuming ‘illegal’ herbs that are used to produce drugs, it is important to note that drinking the tea of any of these two will NOT cause you any symptom of drugs, so don’t worry, you won’t get high because of the Coca tea.
In order to help with the altitude sickness, I suggest you mixing both leaves, Muña and Coca to make the tea. More about the teas below.
How to Avoid Altitude Sickness
I suggest you spend at least the first day or even the second as well, in your hotel room, resting. Normally this is the time your body takes to acclimatize. This is the first advise everybody hears but most people don’t believe that Altitude Sickness can hit hard.
Don’t go on hikes and trails in your first days in Cusco, and if you are planning to go to Machu Picchu, make sure to rest some days before visiting the ruins, even if you are planning to make just a one day trip to Machu Picchu.
Take it easy
It is normal to feel weak and unwell when you are in an elevated altitude, especially in the first days, so when you finally feel prepared to walk around and visit the city, go slow, take your time.
You will notice that you get tired easier than you would in your normal altitude and will lose the breath more often, and this is because of the lack of oxygen. Avoid climbing stairs, streets and hills and don’t rush.
Breath more often
Due to the lack of oxygen, it becomes hard to breathe normally, you will notice that your lungs will not get full as it does in the normal altitude, and you will need to take deeper breaths, calm down, it is all part of the disease. Especially if you are doing any exercise, or just walking around the city, stop and take deep breaths more often.
Smell something strong
If you are having difficulty to breath, try smelling something strong, you can buy in any pharmacy in Peru something called Agua de Florida, which is a small bottle of a yellow cologne made of a mix of different herbs, it is a famous medicine among the South American tribes and cures many things, between then, the headaches and the breathing difficulty.
It is really simple to use the Peruvian Agua de Florida, all you need to do is to drop it on your hand, place your hands close to your nose and smell it.
If you wish you can pass it on your forehead, face, and neck. You can do as often as you wish as a mean to soften the symptoms of the Altitude Sickness.
If your breathing difficulty is giving you a serious issue, then you should buy oxyshot, if you are in an elevated city, they can be easily bought in any pharmacy, many trails or hike companies also offer then during the tours. They are small plastic tubes filled with oxygen.
Watch out what you eat
Avoid eating heavy and salty food, instead, go for something light, like rice, chicken, soups, bread. Avoid red meat, pasta, milk, and anything creamy. If you got diarrhea you should also avoid fruits, salad and anything raw, stick to the boiled vegetables.
Drink TONS of water! Although it doesn’t soften the effect of the Altitude Sickness, it relieves the headaches, as in many cases you will get headaches due to dehydration as high elevations tend to be dry. So, even if you are not thirsty, force yourself to drink as much water as you can to hydrate your body.
You probably already heard about Coca tea, it is important to remember that although it helps a lot, it is not a curative measure, rather it is preventive.
So, definitely you should drink a lot of Coca tea, but bearing in mind that it won’t make you feel better right the way, but perhaps in the next day, you will start feeling its effect. The idea is to drink the tea along the day.
Of course, you won’t find coca tea anywhere in the world, but if you are in countries like Peru or Bolivia they can be easily found. Besides the tea, you can also buy coca candies and leaves, both will work just like tea.
While Coca tea is great for the altitude sickness and headaches, Muña, another famous herb, easily found in some countries of South America, is great for stomachache and nausea. You can mix both leaves to make the tea and drink it during the day.
Another way to avoid nausea and vomiting is drinking coke, as you probably saw on those facebook videos, coke cleans the sink, imagine what it doesn’t do to your stomach!
This isn’t even bad propaganda, this is upping Coke’s status to medicine! Probably the first and last time it will happen lol.
I know that sometimes when we travel, all we want is to party hard. But in high altitude, avoid alcohol. Not even a glass of wine to with my pasta?
Yeah, not even a glass of wine, sorry. Due to the low pressure, you will feel the effects of the alcohol faster than you normally do, even if you drink just a little bit, so prepare to wake up in the next day as if you have been beaten up!