Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Skiing at high altitudes--use caution!

Now that the Olympics have ended, many of us want to get back on the skis or give snowboarding a try. Going for a ski weekend in the Poconos is one thing, but that trip to Breckenridge is another.

Skiing at high altitudes--use caution!

Here is what you need to know when skiing in higher altitudes. (istockphoto.com)
Here is what you need to know when skiing in higher altitudes. (istockphoto.com) istockphoto.com

Now that the Olympics have ended, many of us want to get back on the skis or give snowboarding a try.  Going for a ski weekend in the Poconos is one thing, but that trip to Breckenridge is another.

Certainly the slopes are more challenging out west, but many forget the altitude. High altitude can be a real problem for us Philly folks living at sea level. The low oxygen levels that you breathe at high altitudes can cause health problems, and even the physically fit Olympian must take caution.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is an illness that is caused by low air pressure and low oxygen levels at high altitudes (above 8000 feet). In most cases the symptoms are mild and feel like a hangover. Headache, nausea and fatigue are most common, but additional symptoms include dizziness, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate and shortness of breath. Mild AMS is not life-threatening, but can be a warning sign of a more serious problem to come. AMS can lead to lung or brain swelling that quickly can become fatal. The good news is most people only suffer the mild symptoms of AMS.

The treatment for AMS is easy if caught early. The first thing to do is to descend to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible. Breathing oxygen is helpful if available, and medical personnel might add medications like Diamox and decadron. Most cases are mild and will resolve without incident.

More coverage
What is exercise-induced asthma?
7 ways to beat the winter blues

Prevention is the key to avoiding problems. If you are planning a trip to high altitude, try to plan a one-day stay in a place with elevation around 5000 feet and ascend the next day. If this isn’t possible, go light the first day. Don’t make the first day a big ski day. Get used to the area, take in some sights and wait to acclimate a bit before you hit the slopes. If this still isn’t possible, speak with your doctor about medications like acetazolamide (Diamox). This can be taken 24 hours before you leave and for the first 2-3 days of your trip. This can help you adjust quicker and reduce the symptoms.

So if you’re heading out to ski some packed powder at high altitude, be smart, go slow, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol and have fun. If you would like more detailed information, the Wilderness Medicine Society can help.

Read more Sports Doc for Sports Medicine and Fitness news and advice.
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog

Whether you are a weekend warrior, an aging baby boomer, a student athlete or just someone who wants to stay active, this blog is for you. Read about our growing list of expert contributors here.

Tracey Romero Sports Medicine Editor, Philly.com
J. Ryan Bair, PT, DPT, SCS Founder and Owner of FLASH Sports Physical Therapy, Board Certified in Sports Physical Therapy
Brian Cammarota, MEd, ATC, CSCS, CES Partner at Symetrix Sports Performance
Ellen Casey, MD Physician with Drexel University Sports Medicine
Desirea D. Caucci, PT, DPT, OCS Co-owner of Conshohocken Physical Therapy, Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Michael G. Ciccotti, M.D. Head Team Physician for Phillies & St. Joe's; Rothman Institute
Julie Coté, PT, MPT, OCS, COMT Magee Rehabilitation Hospital
Peter F. DeLuca, M.D. Head Team Physician for Eagles, Head Orthopedic Surgeon for Flyers; Rothman Institute
Joel H. Fish, Ph.D. Director of The Center For Sport Psychology; Sports Psychology Consultant for 76ers & Flyers
R. Robert Franks, D.O. Team Physician for USA Wrestling, Consultant for Phillies; Rothman Institute
Ashley B. Greenblatt, ACE-CPT Certified Personal Trainer, The Sporting Club at The Bellevue
Brian Maher, BS, CSCS Owner, Philly Personal Training
Julia Mayberry, M.D. Attending Hand & Upper Extremity Surgeon, Main Line Hand Surgery P.C.
Gavin McKay, NASM-CPT Founder/Franchisor, Unite Fitness
Heather Moore, PT, DPT, CKTP Owner of Total Performance Physical Therapy, North Wales and Hatfield, PA
Justin Shaginaw, MPT, ATC Athletic Trainer for US Soccer Federation; Aria 3B Orthopaedic Institute
Thomas Trojian MD, CAQSM, FACSM Associate Chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at Drexel University
Justin D'Ancona Philly.com
Robert Senior Event coverage, Sports Doc contributor
Latest Videos
Also on Philly.com:
letter icon Newsletter