Everything you want to know about

altitude sickness

IF YOU ARE HAVING AN EMERGENCY, DIAL 911

FOR EVERYTHING ELSE, CALL US FIRST!


307-200-4550

 1490 Gregory Lane,
Jackson WY 83001 US

​​​​​OUR DOCTORS HAVE SEEN MANY VACATIONS RUINED BY ALTITUDE SICKNESS THAT PEOPLE THINK WILL RESOLVE, BUT ONLY WORSENS AND THEY LOOSE VALUABLE DAYS SITTING IN THERE WATCHING THE SNOWFALL HOTEL ROOMS OR SLEEPING. IF YOU WANT TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR VACATION PLEASE CONTACT US NOW FOR A FREE PHONE CONSULTATION REGARDING YOUR SYMPTOMS
 
 IF YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF ALTITUDE ILLNESS, CALL US OR WRITE TO US ON OUR FORM BELOW BEFORE YOU ARRIVE, SO WE CAN FIGURE OUT A TREATMENT PLAN SO THAT YOU CAN ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR VACATION. 


Are you having problems sleeping at night? Feeling extra tired?  Short of breath?  Are you nauseated or do you have a headache?    There is a good chance this is altitude illness, and it is easily treated if you contact us now.
 
Many of the calls we get are from people who are suffering from altitude sickness. Usually people believe their symptoms are from other causes such as colds, flu and food poisoning.  
 
if you are prone to altitude sickness, Jackson is a great location due to its relatively low elevation and flat valley floor, but many of our visitors still get sick.  Read below to learn about altitude sickness myths, and some helpful solutions.
 
Our doctors have seen vacation after vacation ruined by altitude sickness that people think will resolve; but only worsens and they lose valuable days sitting in their hotel rooms watching the snowfall or sleeping.  Our doctors are experts in getting you performing to your absolute best from day one of your vacation.  If you are reading this while in Jackson and are experiencing symptoms, call us up to get started on treatment.


Types and associated symptoms of altitude sickness:


Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS; usually known as altitude sickness or altitude illness):   The most common symptom that many people will experience at altitude  is poor, fitful sleep with frequent awakenings; and they often wake up feeling tired and don't want to get out of bed.  The more intense symptoms of altitude sickness include getting very tired, fatigued or sleepy, getting a headache, feeling dizzy or lightheaded,  visual distortions, feeling short of breath with exertion, and lost appetite which frequently progresses to nausea and vomiting.  All of these symptoms are easily treated by JMP physicians in your own hotel room with medications and /or oxygen.


High Altitude Pulmonary Edema:(HAPE)  This can be a progression of the altitude sickness symptoms above;  but can often be present on its own without the other symptoms.  People with "HAPE" get very tired with minimal exertion, and feel their heart pounding with minimal exercise.  These symptoms often get worse when lying down, and many people find they are only comfortable lying or sleeping in a chair.  As this disease progresses,  fluid builds up in the lungs, collecting in the air spaces, and people often perceive this as "wheezing" or  a "rattle" in their chest.  This is often accompanied by a cough which may become productive of frothy white or pink sputum if left unchecked, and even fevers or chills. many people believe the have the flu or pneumonia; especially when these symptoms happen along with nausea, vomiting and  headache as mentioned above in the AMS section. This is a dangerous medical condition, and requires immediate medical evaluation.  JMP physicians can treat early cases of this in the hotel room, although  advanced cases need to go to the ER.  Call us to discuss and to see if we can help you if these symptoms are mild.  If the symptoms are severe or worse, HACE will occur.  

​​​​​​ High Altitude Cerebral Edema: ("HACE") This is almost impossible to develop at Jackson Holes valley altitudes;  but could happen with prolonged exposure to higher altitudes on the mountains. The hallmarks of this disease are poor balance, weakness, confusion, hallucinations & lethargy.  If you have these symptoms;  you need to be in an emergency room ASAP.  Call 911 Now.



Base Elevation of some Major US Mountain Resorts:  


Jackson Hole has a lower base elevation (and more vertical drop, more snow, more culture, more charm, better terrain, better lifts, better scenery, more non-skiing activities, more wildlife, and better skiing...  than most other major mountain destinations in the U.S. so it is a great place to visit if you have had altitude illness in the past. Even so, around 10% of our non-acclimated visitors will have their vacation impacted by adjustment to the altitude.  For comparison, about 25% of non-acclimated visitors will be significantly affected at 8,000 and 75% of  non-acclimated visitors to 10,000 feet will be effected. Use the information below to compare Jackson to where you have experienced symptoms in the past:
 
Jackson Hole, WY:               6,300 feet
South Lake Tahoe, CA:        6,300 feet
Park City, UT:                      7,000 feet
Steamboat Springs, CO:      7,000 feet
Kirkwood, CA:                     8,000 feet
Mammoth Mountain, CA:     8,000 feet
Vail/Beaver Creek, CO:       8,500 feet
Telluride, CO:                     8,700 feet
Alta, UT:                             9,000 feet
Taos, NM                              9,000 feet
Summit County, CO:            9,500 feet
Arapahoe Basin, CO:          10,500 feet


The Biggest Myths about Altitude Sickness dispelled: 

  
Myth #1: Drinking lots of water prevents altitude sickness.


Despite popular belief,  drinking lots of fluids will not prevent altitude illness at all.  Nausea and vomiting  are common in altitude sickness and dehydration is a concern with the dry air, so you should drink enough to stay well hydrated; enough to keep your urine light in color. Drinking more will not prevent altitude symptoms.  Drinking excessive fluids may actually lead to fluid overload, and an increased risk for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema and High Altitude Cerebral Edema.


Myth #2:  Canned oxygen will help alleviate altitude symptoms.


We frequently go to peoples rooms to see a few of these small empty containers lying around their rooms.  These canisters cost $12-20 dollars, and contain 2-4 and sometimes up to 6 liters of oxygen for the largest sizes available. SLEEPING on Oxygen is in fact THE most helpful thing to be done to help you feel better and adapt, but most people need to sleep on oxygen at a rate of 2 liters a minute to get the full benefit.  This means that you will need about 20 of the largest bottles available per hour;  or 160 canisters for one nights sleep at a cost of $2,000-3,000... and then hire someone to keep them in your mouth while you are sleeping.  For comparison, our oxygen concentrators will cost you about 100$ per night. 

Myth #3:  Athletic people  don't have to worry about altitude illness.

Above average fitness can actually predispose you to altitude illness. Respiration in healthy people is driven by levels of CO2; not oxygen.  CO2 forms in your as you burn energy, and  you breathe to "blow it off".  Athletes become very efficient at blowing off there CO2, and often have a very low respiratory rate.  When they come to altitude they still naturally breathe less, and their oxygen levels drop lower than someone who is not fit and breathes faster.  Some of the sickest people we have ever treated were marathon runners or professional athletes.


Myth #4:   Brand-X supplement  will help prevent symptoms.  

Some studies suggest that some supplements can eliminate some altitude symptoms; but fail in most people in the real world. People who routinely lose ski days to altitude illness will usually end up needing pharmaceuticals and / or oxygen. Most people who have a history of altitude sickness will get it again at similar altitudes. Our medical director is extremely susceptible to altitude illness and has suffered from this for his entire life. He has personally tried about every single supplement on the market, and has never found one that worked... at all.

As far as over the counter products that might help,  Motrin (if it is safe for you to take at the recommended doses, ask your doctor or call us) can decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness in up to 25%  of people who take high doses multiple times per day by blocking associated inflammation.  This is far better than altitude specific product  that we are aware of; but no where near as good as the prescription drugs that we normally use.  When it comes to treating or preventing altitude sickness nothing is as good as overnight oxygen. Supplements like Rhodiola, Ginko, homeopathic remedies, Hydrogen peroxide, argenine, citrulline and commercial products like  "Adapt", "Altitude Rx",  "Altigen",  and other combination treatments just don't seem to work.         

If you have used a supplement or therapy that does work dependably, please write us an email and let us know about it!
 
 
What can be done to better adjust to the altitude?

First, if you are arriving from low elevation, plan your stay here to avoid exertion on the first day or two of your trip; maybe head down to downtown Jackson and enjoy the galleries, or head up to Teton National Park and see the sites and watch the wildlife. Avoiding exertion for the first few days helps you acclimate faster. Additionally, avoid alcohol, sedatives, and narcotics as they all increase the risk of getting symptoms because they will suppress your breathing and lower your oxygen levels during sleep. If you need to be on these medications, you should really consider overnight oxygen. If you are going to go skiing on the first day or two of your stay, keep on the lower elevations of the mountain and take it easy.

The best thing you can do to avoid altitude illness is SLEEP ON OXYGEN THE FIRST TWO OR THREE NIGHTS. This will almost universally make you sleep better, awaken feeling more rested, have more energy and stamina on the slopes and enjoy your vacation that much more... this is a VERY worthwhile investment. Oxygen is a prescription drug; and is dangerous if given to the wrong patients so if you want oxygen delivered to your room without our consultation services; you will need to provide a prescription from your personal Physician. If your doctor writes the prescription, we will be glad to have the oxygen unit in your room waiting for you when you arrive.

As an alternative, or as an additional measure for when you are off of oxygen, the prescription medications Diamox at LOW DOSES is very helpful. Higher dose work no better, and will make all your food and drink taste bad, and can make your fingers and toes get numb and tingly... making it difficult to tighten your ski boots or ski. This additionally can make it difficult to tell how cold your hands and feet are in the winter. The addition of LOW DOSES of Decadron, an anti-inflammatory steroid, can also be very helpful and is way more effective than Motrin. Consider getting on these medications before you arrive if you are interested in rapidly acclimating. There are lots of other medications to use depending on symptoms you may have had (like those associated with HAPE) in the past, and depending on what other medications you are on or additional medical problems that you might have.

For the best results, call our physicians for a consultation before your trip and take advantage of our Altitude Adjustment Program. We will take a full medical history, determine the right medications, if any, for you, determine what supplements might make your on-slope performance better; and if you need it or want it, we will arrange for oxygen to be waiting in your hotel room when you arrive.

 IF YOU HAVE A HISTORY OF ALTITUDE ILLNESS, CALL US OR WRITE TO US ON THE FORM BELOW BEFORE YOU ARRIVE, SO WE CAN FIGURE OUT A TREATMENT PLAN SO THAT YOU CAN ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR VACATION.