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What is altitude sickness and why does it occur?

Altitude or mountain sickness, colloquially known as soroche , is a disease that affects those who practice mountain sports at certain altitudes. As we ascend, the atmospheric pressure and the oxygen pressure decrease and, therefore, the inspired oxygen is lower. It is above 2,400 meters when that lack of oxygen begins to occur to which the body is not accustomed. This lack of oxygen in the blood or hypoxia is the cause of mountain sickness.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

Those who are used to living above sea level or at low altitudes will be more likely to suffer from symptoms of mountain sickness when they ascend above 2,000 meters. These signs usually appear after a few hours in the mountains and are worse at night. The first or mildest symptoms of altitude sickness are dizziness, nausea, weakness, a racing pulse, rapid or difficult breathing, and headaches.

Severe symptoms include bluish skin color (cyanosis), chest rigidity or congestion, confusion, cough, decreased consciousness, paleness, complete inability to walk, and respiratory distress. In case of not putting a solution, it will evolve to more severe complications, so treatment must be given urgently.

How to combat altitude sickness?

  • Avoid food in abundance: one of the measures you have to take before traveling to a place located at high altitude is to eat lightly. Two days before starting your trip, start eating dishes rich in carbohydrates and natural sugars.
  • Rest when you arrive at the destination: the best thing to do is to do the altitude ascent little by little, but as we know that these are not always possible, we recommend that you take the first days in Cusco calmly and without doing activities that require you great physical effort.
  • Take coca leaves, coca tea or pills for soroche: before feeling the symptoms of soroche you can prevent its appearance by taking coca leaves or tea (you will find them in any store, bar or accommodation in Cusco). In addition, you can also go to any pharmacy in the city and buy pills for soroche.
  • Drink a lot of water: altitude also causes the air to be drier and, consequently, our body needs more water to be hydrated. For this reason, we recommend that you always carry a bottle of water in your backpack and drink constantly, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Avoid alcohol: likewise, alcohol is a drink that causes dehydration of the body, so we recommend you not to overdo it during your visit to Cusco.

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