What to do against altitude sickness in Peru?
Altitude sickness in Peru
Peru is an incredible country. It has an unprecedented variety of fauna and flora. It has an impressive wonder of the world and the country is bustling with culture. Yet there is also an unpleasant part about visiting this country. Or at least for many people. We experienced it ourselves during our trip through Peru. Altitude sickness can occur in high altitude cities like Cusco and you better be prepared for that. Here you can read what you can do against altitude sickness in Peru.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is a phenomenon that can occur when you find yourself at an altitude of more than 2500 metres. With altitude sickness, your body cannot get used to the changed air fast enough, i.e. to the reduction of oxygen in the air. The body has to produce extra red blood cells at altitude to adapt, but this can take several days or weeks. Suddenly going from low to high range can therefore seriously disturb the body. Many people suffer from it and there is no indication that healthy, fit people suffer less than others. Everyone is susceptible. A human being can go as high as 9000 metres to stay alive without oxygen. But already between 6000 and 8000 metres altitude, you can only stay for a maximum of several days. Altitude sickness starts at 2500 metres and increases the higher you climb.
What are the complaints?
The symptoms may be different for everyone. From moderate to severe. Mild symptoms include headache, dizziness, insomnia and irregular breathing. Bryan in particular suffered from this during our trip to Peru. But you may also develop serious symptoms such as severe headaches that do not go away with painkillers, loss of concentration and memory, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, indifferent behaviour, double vision, paralysis and so on. Sigrid had more of that. Because severe symptoms sometimes do not seem to go away, it is strongly advised to consult a doctor. That is what we have done. Sigrid was given oxygen and afterwards things went much better. This isn’t expensive at all (around 70 euros for an hour and a half of oxygen) and your health insurance will cover it. So do not hesitate to go to a doctor or hospital if your symptoms persist. In rare cases, altitude sickness can lead to death if you do not get help in time.
Where to get altitude sickness
As mentioned earlier, you can get altitude sickness from an altitude of 2500 metres. In the Alps, you can also experience this phenomenon. In countries such as Chile and Peru, this phenomenon soon occurs when you head for the mountains. In Lima, Peru, you will not experience this. Lima is situated at sea level. But if you go to Cusco to visit Machu Picchu, for example, you will have to take this into account. Also, when you want to visit Rainbow Mountain, Lake Titicaca or other mountains, your risk of altitude sickness will increase.
What to do against altitude sickness in Peru?
It is recommended that you gradually increase in height. So don’t go straight from zero to 3,000 metres, as we did. Instead of flying, you can take the bus or car to ascend gradually, giving your body time to adjust to the new altitude step by step. Drinking coca tea on the spot can help. This tea is made from coca leaves but has absolutely no hallucinogenic side effects. The locals drink it every day and you can find it everywhere in Peru. What also helps is to drink Genorade, the local red Aquarius. It contains ingredients that prevent nausea and headaches. At the pharmacist’s they also sell medication against altitude sickness that you can get without a prescription. You can always consult them. Taking medication against altitude sickness in advance, before departure, is also an option that keeps the symptoms under control for many people.
In case of serious complaints
In serious cases, these remedies do not help sufficiently and it is advisable to consult a doctor. They will almost always give you oxygen and additional medication. Check if your symptoms are less present or not. If not, you should get more or longer oxygen. Be sure to indicate this yourself. Most doctors automatically set low oxygen to begin with. However, it is important that your symptoms disappear the moment you get oxygen. So don’t be satisfied too soon and stay with the doctor long enough. You should leave the hospital or the doctor’s office without or with very slight symptoms. If the symptoms come back afterwards, do not hesitate to go back for more oxygen. Giving oxygen is painless, easy and it relieves the pain almost immediately.