Altitude sickness - How to survive it?

Coming from Hungary, where the highest point is 1014 meters, I have barely heard of the „altitude sickness”. Of course not, as it is usually a sickness over 4000 meters of altitude, where there is less oxygen and it affects the brain.

I have been planning innocently to travel around Bolivia but I did not count with the altitude. In the Andes mountains I had to realize that it was not so easy to go up to high mountains. Talking with locals in La Paz, I heard that one member of a family always has altitude sickness. 

You can ensure two things to avoid the symptoms: you are in a good physical condition and you climb up slowly to get acclimatized to the altitude. The body needs at least 2 days to get used to the less oxygen.

But what happens if you don't have these pre-conditions? What are the symptoms? And what can you do?

1. Feeling dizzy
I believe this is the first thing you can feel at the altitude. When going up to 4000 meters in Chile, sometimes I felt that I was not 100% control of my body. It feels like being tipsy. Quite scary, but until I was conscious, I was okay.
What to do: Do not make quick movements. Just slowly. Sit down, eat candy to bring up your blood-sugar level and do not panic.

Coca sweet for dizziness
2. Fainting
It happens sometimes that people faint. If its you, not much you can do.
What to do: If someone faints, the person should be laid on the ground and the legs should be lifted up so the blood can flow easier into the brain, bringing oxygen. 

3. Headache
This symptom does not come suddenly. I felt headache on my second day in La Paz. I thought that it was because I did not drink enough, but it turned out that the majority of the people had the same headache on their second days.
What to do: Painkiller and water. Not much to do, just wait until your body gets used to the new conditions.

4. Throwing up
This is the ugliest symptom. Fortunately, I have not seen anyone throwing up of altitude, but it is useful to prepare for this possibility.
What to do: Stop eating 8 hours before you go up high and only drink. Once you are up and you do not feel dizzy in your stomach, you can eat.

5. Hampered respiration
What does it mean? You walk up and down on the streets and you feel tired easier, you pant. I heard that even locals (Peruvians/ Bolivians) have this symptom.
What to do: Walk slowly. Do not rush. Locals do not do it either. :)

Coca tea for headache or stomachache

In all cases, locals swear for chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea. They are good against altitude sickness. Make sure you do not try to take them home as souvenirs, coca leaves are illegal in most of the countries. You can, however, take out coca candies. Still, always check with your country’s migration policy beforehand.

About Tiny Girl With Big Bag

Hobby writer and autodidact photographer whose passion is to travel and get to know new people and cultures. She has been on 4 continents and 30 countries, and the outcome is this travel blog where she shares travel stories, thoughts, tips and photography always through a subjective eye.

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