Tim Foolery

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Altitude Sickness

When traveling somewhere exotic, I always stop by the Travel Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Luckily, for my current trip to Peru, the only think I needed was antibiotics  (for travelers diarrhea, if needed) and pills for altitude sickness.

I’ve never ventured to these heights before – Cusco is about 11,000 feet and La Paz is 12,000 feet.  Altitude sickness can cause, diziness, light-headedness, nausea, headache, insomnia and lack of energy.  I was prescribed some pills which I had to start taking two days prior to reaching elevation.  Since I am allergic to sulfa based drugs (which the traditional altitude sickness medicine has) I was given an alternative.  This alternative has the following side effects: dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, headache, insomnia, lethargy, sun sensitivity, light sensitivity, excessive thirst and frequent urination.

You read that right, the medicine appears to be worse than the illness.  I stopped taking the pills our last night in Cuzco and the following morning my headache (which had lingered since Friday night) was gone, I didn’t feel confused / lightheaded today and I haven’t been running to pee every 60 minutes either.

I am usually trying to find ways not to take big pharma meds, but when it comes to travel, I figure I’d rather use the meds and not have a ruined vacation, but in this instance, the opposite nearly happened.

My guidance is, of course, follow your doctor’s advice, but question everything he/she says and ask for alternatives.

How have you dealt with altitude sickness? Have you had any other travel experiences like this?  Do you visit a travel clinic before you head off on a trip somewhere?


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