Altitude sickness can happen to anyone, of any gender, fitness level or age, and completely depends on the person as some are more susceptible than others. The condition occurs due to low oxygen pressure in the air, and can occur at any height between 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level and higher. While symptoms at 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) are minor and can include shortness of breath, at 2,400 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level they can include headaches, loss of appetite, dehydration, heavy breathing, insomnia or nose bleeding.
Though this sounds alarming, in Bogotá only a small number of people suffer from altitude sickness after their ascent into the city – the likelihood is increased with a rapid ascent to a high altitude. Many people don’t suffer, especially when arriving by plane as they land from a higher altitude. However, if your arrival is by other means of transport, there are ways to avoid the dreaded soroche.
Dehydration is a common side effect of altitude sickness, due to the increased rate of water vapour lost from the lungs. Drinking water to prevent dehydration is necessary when in high altitude locations. Try sipping water or taking on an energy drink which helps rehydration with high levels of glucose and minerals.
A common side effect of altitude sickness is fatigue or weaknesses, due to the lack of oxygen to the body and high exertion. Visitors should take time to relax within the first few days of arriving in the city, and not exert themselves.
In Bogotá, usually walking around the city won’t bring on altitude sickness, but visitors who undertake heavy exercise within the first few days of arriving in the city will definitely notice the altitude. It may seem like a brilliant idea to make your way to the top of the Monserrate on the first morning in the city, but it’s far better to wait for a couple of days, to allow your body to get used to the oxygen before ascending higher up the mountains. The same would be advised with heavy exercise, such as bike riding or running, as even very fit visitors may feel short of breath at the beginning of their trip.
Eating leafy greens can help to prevent altitude sickness due to their high levels of salicylic acid. These acids act as an anti-inflammatory and can help thin the blood, allowing the oxygenated blood to travel to all corners of the body.
Taking on carbohydrates can prevent altitude sickness as their digestion helps to generate glycolysis (carbohydrate storage), which releases energy at a faster rate. When these stores are gone, visitors may feel an increase in fatigue or weaknesses, due to lack of energy.
Coca tea is a long running tradition drank to help prevent altitude sickness. The tea is a herbal tea made from coca leaves which are submerged in the hot water or put inside a tea bag. This greenish yellowy tea is traditionally drunk in the Andes region covering Colombia, Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. The tea is high in glucose and can alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness.
It’s easier to get sunburnt in a high altitude location than anywhere else, due to the reduction in water vapour which makes the sky clearer than at a lower level – this means that the air contains 25% less sun protection than a lower altitude. In Bogotá visitors can get sunburnt very easily without even realising it’s happening, so make sure you slap on the sun protection as sunburn can also lead to dehydration and altitude sickness.