On Altitude Sickness and Shortness of Breath

Christine loves Colorado. She loves the beauty of the mountains, the breathtaking expanses, and just being out in nature. I love all of that too…however, for me there is a complication. At about 9,000 feet of elevation I start gasping for air.

Let me back up just a bit. The summer right after high school, when I was still in peak running condition, I worked a trade show in Denver. We visited the Continental Divide, Garden of the Gods, and went above the tree line a place or two. No problems.

Fast Forward to about 10 years ago where I went on a ski trip for the first time with my brother, an experienced skier. At the time, I was having a lot of knee problems and his wife suggested that, perhaps, snowboarding would be a better solution to protect my knees. I borrowed some ski clothes (that were just a bit snug). As we drove into Denver, we stopped for dinner. After dinner, we finished the drive into the ski town that would be our home for the week. However, as we headed up in elevation, I began getting a growing headache. Couple that with something from dinner that wasn’t agreeing with me and it was a “wonderful” drive. Overnight, we stayed in a hotel that had a heater that was working REALLY well and my headache was absolutely full blown. I had taken tylenol to no avail. We finally realized that it was the altitude. The next day I got something from the store and that helped but I suffered catching my breath, especially in some tighter clothes for skiing.

Several years ago, Christine began doing races in Colorado, We stayed in Leadville for several of them and I was really struggling not being able to breath/catch my breath. Sleeping at night was miserable because I would wake up what seemed like every few minutes to try to catch my breath. By the end of the trip, I was done in.

I learned about a couple of tricks from some friends and locals, though, that really has helped. For one, we had always heard that if your struggling with altitude sickness go down to a lower altitude. . .well what if that wasn’t practical?!?! Next!

Then we heard about Diamox that is a prescription that you can get that helps somehow with your breathing. A friend had given me one to try and it was the first night of good sleep that I had had in nights. So, I added that to my things to get the next trip.

A Leadville local also shared another secret: chlorophyll.

Between the Diamox and the Chlorophyll, I slept much better.

Finally, we did begin staying at a lower altitude and would drive up to higher altitudes for various activities. Coupled with the Diamox and Chlorophyll, it’s been a winning combination.

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