Altitude sickness and panic. Help me cope!
December 25, 2013 4:29 PM   Subscribe

Traveled to Yellowstone from Illinois. I have gotten hit with with some altitude sickness. Unfortantly my biggest symptoms are insomia, panic, and diarrhea. Ick. YANMD. Can you help with coping strategies ?

After being awake for 24 hours straight to arrive st Yellowstone via car, my altitude sickness is kicking my butt. The lack if sleep (three/four hours total is of very non restful sleep In about hour increments) Plus my panic is just frustrating. Unfortunately medications to treat sleep and panic can't be taken as they make altitude sickness worse. Can you suggest techniques for me to help calm down and get through this so I can enjoy my vacation and not be a grumpy butt ? I'm taking it slow (no hiking or skiing for 48 hours after arrival). Thanks
posted by AlexiaSky to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Drop down in altidude now then come up slowley over the next 24hrs.
posted by Kerasia at 4:35 PM on December 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in Colorado last week and suffered from altitude symptoms for the first three days. I drank lots of fluids, but every night for the first three nights I developed a headache that made sleeping extremely difficult. I was told that I didn't have a headache during the day because I was breathing more deeply while awake and physically active. I don't know if your situation is very different, but hopefully your body will adjust soon as mine did.
posted by Dansaman at 4:36 PM on December 25, 2013

Try drinking a lot of water and try your best to get some rest. Also, wondering if your adventure out to Yellowstone included some fast food that may be making your symptoms worse. Can you hit up a grocery store to find some veggies and whole grains to mix in. Maybe spend your day driving around wildlife seeing - especially if you get a friend to drive your tired self around. Please spot a moose and a bear for me!
posted by Kalmya at 4:46 PM on December 25, 2013

What Kerasia said. Spend the day lower down if you can. Better yet, spend the day higher and sleep lower. And yes, stay hydrated. More so than you think you need.

You'll be fine in a day or two.
posted by bondcliff at 5:00 PM on December 25, 2013

Doesn't sound like altitude sickness, sounds like the fear of altitude sickness. 3 hours sleep in two days doesn't help! Keep in mind, tens of millions of people live every day in altitudes as high or higher than where you are right now. And the cure for altitude sickness is... going back down to lower ground. So it's completely in your control.
posted by hamsterdam at 5:08 PM on December 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

IANAD but I'm pretty sure that the antihistamine Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is safe to take at high altitudes and it should help with the nausea, anxiety, and insomnia. It's sold just about everywhere and many people carry it on them for allergies so you should be able to find some pretty quickly.

The regular allergy-level dose is 25mg but when it's marketed as a sleep aide it's usually in 50mg doses. Based on personal experience I don't recommend taking more than 100mg at once because I've found that doses higher than that leave me feeling too thirsty to sleep through the night.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:21 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make sure you're getting electrolytes (like from Gatorade) not just water. Also, I've had success relieving my altitude sickness by eating miso soup for breakfast, believe it or not. My symptoms were different than yours (nausea/vomiting, headaches, etc.) but it can't hurt.

Good luck.
posted by nadise at 5:54 PM on December 25, 2013

Some people told me that eating a lot of carbohydrates helped them.
posted by Dansaman at 6:04 PM on December 25, 2013

Altitude sickness is about air pressure and oxygen levels, so it usually affects breathing, balance, and nausea... IANYD but a safe bet would be that your issues are more about stress, and a 24 hour car trip sans sleep sounds like a massively stressful experience that would wreak havoc on digestion for most people.

Just try to get some great sleep for a couple of nights, and take part in some stress free activities. Go for a walk, sit by a fire and read, eat a few simple meals. Focus on relaxing, which will probably help your digestion (when someone goes to a doctor with a digestion problem, one of the first things they always seem to ask you is how your stress levels are).

And are you absolutely sure those sleep and panic medicines won't help? Again, IANYD, but I would try them.

Once you relax I hope you'll find the altitude suits you just fine! This is a special time of year to see the park- I hope you love it!
posted by Old Man McKay at 6:04 PM on December 25, 2013

coca leaf tea cures the sickness.
posted by hortense at 6:54 PM on December 25, 2013

I go to Colorado (from Missouri) a couple times a year. I usually head to as high altitude as I can, whereupon I get angry, wonder why I'm there, have a few Clif bars and a half-gallon of Propel, take a Benadryl, and pass out. Next day I'm fine. The benadryl will help you sleep. Sleep in a cold room with a lot of covers - you'll breathe more deeply.

They're not kidding about the water. My basis for water/Propel/Crystal Lite at altitude is 1 gallon per day, if I'm not doing anything. If on a long hike, sometimes I go up to 1.75 gallons.
posted by notsnot at 9:34 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The drug of choice by high altitude climbers is Diamox, acetazolamide. Unfortunately it is available only by prescription. Typical dosage is 125 mg twice a day. You should start one or two days before your ascent to altitude as a prophylactic.

Diamox is particularly effect for periodic breathing, an apnea-like condition in which you are repeatedly awakened by shallow or interrupted breathing. Diamox changes the blood chemistry to stimulate breathing, allowing you to sleep uninterrupted.
posted by JackFlash at 10:43 PM on December 25, 2013

From Colorado. Lots of water, limit your caffeine and alcohol. It just takes time.
posted by Kitty Cornered at 8:18 AM on December 26, 2013

Drink fluids like crazy, try to eat carbs, consume your normal amount of caffeine.
posted by 445supermag at 8:59 AM on December 26, 2013

To follow up ... I was altitude sick. I went to the doctor more for reassurance and permission to take my panic attack meds as I was going nuts. My O2 was 93% which is generally where I start having panic attacks with asthma as well. So he gave me some oxygen which made me happy. He confirmed that most likely I just get altitude sick a litter faster than the rest of the population, drink water and gatoraid and for the love of god if I'm this anxious take my meds.
Due to some unusual circumstances that had to do with my car getting a flat tire and difficulty finding our tire we ended up having to stay the night at a lower elevation which helped tremendously. I know now if im going anywhere over 6000 feet i do need sime time to accilmate begore going any higher or im going to be absolutely miserable.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:01 AM on January 25, 2014

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