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Staying Healthy at Altitude

Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness is caused by less oxygen in the air at Lake Tahoe than at sea level. Common symptoms include headache, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, shortness of breath with exertion and restless sleep. These effects are due to chemical changes in your blood stream from the lower oxygen content of the air. These effects are common and your body will adjust within 2 to 3 days, and symptoms will gradually disappear. If you develop altitude sickness, you should avoid over exertion, get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids. It is also advisable to eat lightly and abstain from alcohol. If any of these symptoms become severe or worsen, you should see a physician.

 

Sunburn

The sun’s rays are much more powerful at Lake Tahoe due to the increased elevation. We receive approximately five times the amount of ultraviolet rays here as compared to sea level due to the thinner atmosphere. People with light colored hair and eyes are even more susceptible to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. A high protection sunscreen is recommended with SPF of 15 or higher which protects against UVA and UVB wavelengths. There are also lip balms with sunscreen in them. Sunglasses effective in blocking ultraviolet radiation are also necessary to protect your eyes, especially if you are out on the slopes. Sunburned eyes need medical attention for significant pain, drainage, blurred vision or scratchy sensation.

 

Dehydration

Mountain air at our high altitude is very dry, and compounded with the lower oxygen content results in more rapid breathing. Both of these factors lead to increased fluid requirement. If you are outside and active here, your fluid requirements are doubled of that at home. You should drink at least 8 glasses of water every day. Alcohol causes further dehydration and should not be counted as fluid intake. Drinking water out of mountain lakes and streams is not recommended, no matter how clean they appear to be. If you do drink water from a stream or lake and become ill, you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

 

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when water in the cells freeze. Superficial frostbite usually involves fingertips, ears, nose, toes and cheeks. Symptoms include burning, tingling, numbness and a whitish discoloration of the skin. It is important to take precautions to prevent frostbite, particularly on colder or windy days and during stormy weather. Cover all exposed areas of your body. You may need to go inside and warm yourself more frequently during cold weather. Also, have a friend check your face and ears for whitish discoloration that you may not notice. If you develop frostbite, you should go indoors immediately. Do not rub frostbitten skin. If possible, immerse your fingers or toes in luke warm, not hot, water. If the skin does not return to its normal color, blisters develop, pain persists after thawing, numbness persists, or significant swelling is present, it will be necessary to seek medical attention.