Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Altitude Sickness Prevention

13 March 2012

I’m someone who’s really sensitive to altitude. I start getting sick at around 4,000 feet.

My dad recently had his 80th birthday party (I’ll blog about that trip soon), and I was panicking because he lives at around 8,000 feet.

What to do?

Research, along with some checking around, showed there was something better than symptom relief available. There is at least one drug that goes to the next level: symptom prevention. I talked to my doctor, who prescribed the drug acetazolamide, sold under the trade name Diamox for altitude sickness.

Good news first: it worked really well. I had better oxygen capacity and fewer altitude symptoms at 8,000 feet than I’d had at 4,000 the year before. Even better, Rick and I went up to the top of the mountain, 11,000 feet, and I was only about as bad off as I’d been at 4,000 the year before, with an even milder headache.

Acetazolamide works by changing the blood’s acidity, which changes the way it stores oxygen. More available oxygen means that you’ll suffer less from the oxygen deprivation at altitude.

I mentioned the good. Now the bad.

The wikipedia page mentions that there are taste alterations, “especially for carbonated drinks.” Did I have to try this out? Of course I did. I took my first pill with a can of Pepsi. By the third sip (having taken the pill with the first), it tasted vile. You know that foul-smelling stuff used to clear out earwax? Kind of like that. Except, of course, carbonated.

I didn’t have blurred vision, I didn’t have other serious taste shifts (though I did notice some), but I did experience not only significant tingling in fingers and toes, but it was like all my pain medications suddenly stopped working. So, while I could walk around at altitude, I also couldn’t. Paradox that way, but breathing was worth it.

Anyhow, if you’re planning a trip to significant elevation — or have ruled such a trip out for fear of side effects — maybe this is something to think about.

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