High Altitude Tips For Your Jackson Hole Visit
While most visitors to Jackson Hole do not suffer any medical problems from their visit to our high altitude, we hope the following information will help prevent any problems. If a health question arises, please call us at EMERG+A+CARE of Jackson Hole at 733-8002. We try to maintain office hours six days a week 8:30am to 6pm during the tourist seasons; we are available for emergencies 24 hours a day through our office number.
Altitude Effects on Pre-Existing Medical Problems
The reduced amount of oxygen at altitude may have adverse effects on preexisting medical problems. New or increased symptoms such as shortness of breath and a rapid pulse may occur with heart and lung problems. Blood pressure may increase transiently and some may develop swelling in their feet and ankles. There are no easy guidelines for when medical assistance is necessary in these circumstances, but please feel free to call if you have any questions or would like to have a consultation.
Dehydration occurs much more frequently in Jackson Hole than sea level locations since our relative humidity is very low. Dehydration can sap one’s energy, cause headaches and effect athletic performance. The best rule of thumb is to drink enough fluid to cause the need for urination at least every three hours. Take frequent water or fluid breaks during vigorous activities such as skiing or hiking.
High altitude predisposes one to sunburn and snow blindness (sunburn of the eyes) because there is less atmosphere to filter out ultraviolet rays. Sun block is mandatory for those with sensitive skin and should be used by all to prevent discomfort and aging affects of sunburn. In addition, it helps protect from the possible increased risk of skin cancer caused by excessive sun exposure. In winter as well as summer, wide-brimmed hats will help protect sensitive ear and exposed scalps. Snow blindness is prevented by wearing UV filtering sunglasses. Side panels which block reflected light are also helpful when on snow and water.
Nose bleeds will also occur more frequently due to the dry air, particularly in the early mornings. Using a vaporizer, vaseline and avoiding colds will help prevent this problem. If a bleed occurs, pinching the nose for 5 to 10 minutes will usually stop the bleeding. If it does not stop, contact us for help.
The effects of alcohol and other drugs are dramatically increased at altitude. At Jackson Hole’s elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level, the effect of alcohol will be approximately double for the sea level inhabitant. Also, hangovers will be worse at altitude. BE CAREFUL. DON’T DRINK WHILE DRIVING OR PARTICIPATING IN POTENTIALLY HAZARDOUS SPORTS.
Acute Mountain Sickness
Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS is a syndrome which can range from mild headaches to an incapacitating illness. Although it generally occurs when one sleeps at altitude above 8,000 feet, about 5% of Jackson Hole’s visitors will develop some symptoms. Frequent symptoms are headache, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, lack of appetite and light-headedness. Generally symptoms will improve with rest and fluids over 24 to 48 hours. There is a prescription medicine called Diamox which will help prevent AMS and other medications for symptomatic relief. Alcohol, tranquilizers, sleep medication and antihistamines may make Acute Mountain Sickness worse. Consult with a physician before using any of these drugs when suffering from AMS. AMS can progress into a much more serious illness known as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). This medical emergency is heralded by an incapacitating headache, neurological symptoms such as a “drunken” gait, and may proceed to a coma. Prompt emergency help is critical with HACE.
Frostbite is the actual freezing of the skin and underlying tissue. The most frequent areas affected are the fingers, toes, nose and cheeks. Frostbitten areas initially look white and then turn red. A purple hue to the skin usually means a more severe freezing problem. Most frostbitten extremities tingle or feel numb initially and hurt with rewarming. Seek medical attention if you suspect frostbite.