Get those fluids when at high elevation |

Get those fluids when at high elevation

Lauren Glendenning
Vail correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

If you just stepped off a plane that arrived from a much lower elevation, pay attention to messages your body is sending you about your health, local doctors said.

Living and playing at higher elevations can lead to a number of health problems, with dehydration coming in as one of the most common. The body tries to adjust to high elevations through increased urination and more rapid breathing, according to, a nonprofit medical practice site with expertise from about 3,400 scientists and doctors.

The faster you breathe, the more water you lose through respiration, said Dr. John Bernard Woodland, the chief medical officer for the Vail Valley Medical Center.

The air here is very dry and once you inhale that air, the lungs moisturize it before exhaling, he said. You essentially humidify the air and end up exhaling more moist air than you inhaled, which can speed up the dehydration process, he said.

“Drinking the normal amounts of fluid (visitors to the valley) would drink at home is not adequate up here,” Woodland said.

When doctors say to drink fluids in high altitudes, that means sports drinks in addition to water, said Dr. Jeff Brown, a pediatric doctor at the Vail Valley Medical Center.

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Propel, provide necessary sugar, salt and electrolytes that water doesn’t, he said.

“Too much water could dilute salt content in the blood, which could also be dangerous,” Brown said.

Drinking caffeine or alcohol in moderation is also key, Brown said. Both caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics, meaning they speed up the frequency of urination, which can mean you’ll urinate out more water than you would otherwise, he said.

“That’ll make the problem worse,” Brown said.

The night before a big ski day, hydrate as much as possible, Brown said.

Woodland said not to overdo it either – meaning don’t try to down a 32-ounce of water.

“I always encourage people to drink frequent, small amounts,” Woodland said. “You should be drinking at least three-plus liters of water a day.”

Skiing is an activity where people often don’t have access to water all the time. There aren’t water fountains on the mountain, and for skiers who like to get in as many runs as possible without taking breaks, there can be consequences, the doctors said.

Brown said that after three straight hours of skiing, the chances of injury go up dramatically, and that includes dehydration.

Woodland said those who wear their water bottles, like the popular Camelbak backpacks, have the right idea.

“Or at least make sure to drink lots in the morning, at lunch and at the end of the day,” Woodland said. “Because our air is so dry, people just don’t appreciate how much water they really need.”

Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, a decrease in urination, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and feeling light-headed, doctors said.

In the early stages of dehydration, drinking sports drinks can usually do the trick, Brown said. But more severe cases mean you should stop physical activity, rest and aggressively drink fluids and keep them down.

Sometimes dehydration causes vomiting, which means fluids aren’t staying down. It’s time to see a doctor at that point, Brown said.

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