What is Altitude Sickness? (Or “Soroche” as it’s called in Cusco)
At high elevations—above 8,000 feet—the air is “thinner,” meaning there is less pressure, so while the oxygen percentage remains the same, the air is less dense, so each breath you take contains less oxygen than what you’re used to.
To counteract this, your body will, at first, need to breathe faster and pump blood more rapidly in order to take in the same amount of oxygen it is accustomed to receiving. For many people, this comes as a shock to the body, causing various symptoms.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Diarrhea or constipation
Important Things to Note
There isn’t really a “cure” for altitude sickness, other than descending back down to a normal elevation.
Cusco is at 11,152 feet (3,399 meters). Machu Picchu is significantly lower at 7,972 ft (2,430 m). Altitude sickness generally starts affecting people at 8,000 feet or higher, so Machu Picchu isn’t really the potential problem–Cusco is. Everyone who goes to Machu Picchu must pass through Cusco. Flights land here. Buses from Lima stop here.
For people who live on the coast or lower areas and come for a walk to Cusco, Machu Picchu or an adventure tour like The Classic Inca Trail is very likely to give them altitude sickness (although, you can never really predict).
so it is necessary to acclimatize yourself in this way every time a person climbs to a height similar to that of Cusco, it is possible that little by little he can acclimatize more quickly and suffer less altitude sickness
Take it easy. This is seriously the easiest—and most ignored—piece of advice for avoiding altitude sickness. Remember, your body is trying to get accustomed to the lower amount of oxygen it’s getting; therefore it is of utmost importance that you take it easy the first few days you are in Cusco. Don’t go on hikes or long walks. Don’t put any excess stress on your body—it’s already working overtime to oxygenate your blood!
Take deep breaths. Again, your body is trying to get oxygen, but there is less of it available in each breath. So take deep breaths to try to get more air in.
Avoid alcohol. The reasons for this are debated, but certain studies show that the effects of alcohol are enhanced at high altitude (i.e. You get drunk more easily). Also, alcohol may exacerbate the effects of altitude sickness. Hold off on the Pisco Sours for the first couple of days you’re in Cusco.
Drink lots of water. This may not alleviate altitude sickness exactly, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between altitude sickness and dehydration, and high elevations tend to be very dry, meaning you need more water for proper hydration.
Acclimate at a lower altitude, and ascend slowly. This piece of advice is sometimes hard to follow because it means changing your trip plans. A lot of people recommend that the second your plane lands in Cusco, you should take a taxi or colectivo to the Sacred Valley, about an hour outside of Cusco, where the elevation is about 2,000 feet lower. This allows you to acclimate at a somewhat lower altitude, and then move back up to Cusco when your body is more used to high altitude. The other option is to take a 21-hour bus ride from Lima to Cusco. Some people think the Lima-Cusco bus is a better option because it allows you to ascend slowly over the course of 21 hours—however, the bus route is very curvy and mountainous, so you will likely get very car sick if you’re prone to motion sickness.
Take Diamox. In the U.S., Diamox is a prescription drug often used to treat glaucoma; however, it can also treat altitude sickness. You need to take it 24 hours before arriving in Cusco, though, and a side effect of the drug is that you’ll probably need to pee more frequently–not very convenient when you’re traveling. I brought Diamox with me, but have never used it.
Bring chlorophyll drops. (Yep, chlorophyll as in the green stuff from plants.) This one took me by surprise! I had never heard of this treatment until I met a couple on the train from Machu Picchu to Cusco. They told me they had brought a small bottle of
chlorophyll drops they’d bought at a natural health store back in the States, and they put a few drops in their water every day and never suffered any ill effects from the altitude.
The idea behind this natural treatment is that the chlorophyll increases the amount of red blood cells in your system; the more red blood cells there are, the more opportunities there are for oxygen to be absorbed, thereby reducing the effects of altitude
Drink coca tea. Oh my, coca. You will find it everywhere in Cusco. Let’s clarify a few things: Yes, coca is the plant from which cocaine is made. However, coca leaves alone are not potent enough to be anything near to resembling the illegal drug; so yes, it’s totally safe to drink coca tea. However, don’t drink more than four or five cups, or else you could suffer heart palpitations.
Buy Oxishot. These are plastic tubes filled with oxygen! They’re sold in almost every pharmacy in Cusco. However, many people claim it’s a gimmick. Yes, it contains real oxygen, but it’s such a small amount that it probably will have no effect on you. Your best bet is to go to a hotel or hospital that has real tanks of oxygen.
Go to a 5-star hotel, or the emergency room, and get hooked up to oxygen. If your altitude sickness reaches “emergency” status, you’ll need to get hooked up to a tank of oxygen, ASAP.
Good bye to soroche: tips to avoid and combat altitude sickness
That the height is not an uncomfortable burden that prevents you from enjoying a good trip. Sbe to destinations of more than 2,400 m.s.n.m.
BEFORE LEAVING HOME
– Visit the doctor so that according to your condition, it tells you what medicines you can take without compromising your health. Especially if you suffer from allergies or respiratory and cardiac diseases.
– The day of the trip, avoid consuming heavy and difficult to digest foods like meats. It is best to opt for cookies or bread.
– Do not smoke. Tobacco will make breathing difficult, which in itself will be limited due to the decrease in oxygen.
– Ready the appropriate clothing that allows you to withstand the rigorous climate of the area to visit.
– They are essential: head protectors with earmuffs, gloves, scarf and windproof and waterproof jacket.
– According to medical recommendations, prepare your first aid kit with: analgesics for headache (paracetamol, ibuprofen or dexamethasone) and medicine for nausea (dimenhydrinate or metoclopramide).
ARE YOU ALLERGIC?
If your body rejects paracetamol or ibuprofen, use codeine. It is only prescribed by a doctor.
DURING THE TRIP
– Drink plenty of liquid. Height dehydrates. Drink between four to five liters of water per day and continue with a light diet that gives you easily absorbed energy such as fruits, jams, cereals and Andean grains (quinoa, for example).
– At breakfast and dinner, drink coca tea to promote your digestion.
– In routes with steep climbs, avoid getting off the transport without being sheltered.
IF YOU FORGET
If you travel to Puno or Cusco, remember that in these locations there is also “Sorojchi Pill”, some capsules with paracetamol and other components.
IN THE DESTINY
– Rest for at least one or two days and avoid physical efforts (such as running or climbing) until you are completely acclimatized.
– Do only slow walks around. If there are steep streets or stairs, do not ascend quickly.
– Eat enough, but avoid fried foods or spicy dishes.
– If you are going to have very high routes (from 3,500 m.s. to over), remember that you must make intermediate stops to achieve a progressive acclimatization.
AND IF YOU ALREADY PRESENTED SYMPTOMS OF EVIL HEIGHT, WHAT TO DO?
If you are at the hotel, lie down and have the head of the bed elevated at least 30 degrees. This will avoid headaches and nausea.
Have around several sources of hydration: water without gas and mattes of coca or muña.
Use the medication recommended by your doctor. Coramine will also help reduce nausea. – If the symptoms are moderate or intense, go to the nearest medical center. The administration of oxygen supplement is useful.
Sources: Alex Jaymez Vásquez, Head of Internal Medicine at the International Clinic,
Headquarters San Borja. Luis Neyra de la Rosa, surgeon, coordinator and secretary of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the Sedes Sapientiae Catholic University.
Walter Hidalgo, coordinator of Internal Medicine of the Delgado Clinic.