You might be drawn to the breathtaking landscapes and vibrant culture of Ecuador, especially in high-elevation cities like Cuenca (8,500 feet / 2,560 meters) and Quito (9,400 feet / 2,865 meters); however, you may experience a unique challenge: altitude sickness.
Similar conditions are found across various mountain cities in Ecuador and throughout the Andes, so if you’re planning a trip, you may be wondering how to prevent or treat it.
This guide provides you with insights into the symptoms of altitude sickness and offers practical remedies and preventive steps.
With this knowledge, you can ensure your visit or move to Ecuador remains both comfortable and enjoyable.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult a doctor for medical advice, diagnosis and treatment if you experience any of these symptoms or others.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
It’s crucial to understand the symptoms so that you can distinguish between altitude sickness and other potential ailments.
- Shortness of breath
- Racing heart
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
The tricky part is that it’s unpredictable; some people may feel the effects immediately upon arrival, while others may take a few days.
Preventing and Treating Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is no joke. The adjustment, often underestimated, can play a significant role in your acclimatization to life in this beautiful Andean nation.
Whether you’re contemplating a visit, a move or you already live in Ecuador, understanding the implications of altitude and how to combat its effects is vital.
Here are a few tips to best prepare and adapt to the heights of your new home:
- Ascend Slowly: Ideally, take a few days to adjust to the altitude. If you’re driving in Ecuador, be prepared for rapid altitude changes. The pass through Cajas National Park reaches 13,000 feet / 4,000 meters before descending to Cuenca’s 8,500 feet / 2,560 meters.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water. The high altitudes and dry air can cause dehydration, worsening symptoms.
- Diet Matters: Eat dark leafy greens to increase oxygenation of your blood. Avoid fatty foods, as they can decrease oxygen levels in your blood. Also, abstain from alcohol since it can lead to dehydration.
- Rest and Adjust: Don’t overexert yourself when you first arrive. It’s not advisable to engage in strenuous activities like running, biking, or mountain climbing until you’ve acclimated.
- Mate de Coca: This tea, made from the leaves of the coca plant, is a natural remedy known to help with altitude sickness. However, be cautious, as it can result in a positive drug test when you return home.
- Breathe Properly: Deep breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth, can be beneficial.
- Consider Prescription Medication: Diamox is a drug that some travelers obtain before their trip as a precaution.
- Relocate to Lower Elevation: In severe cases, the best remedy might be to move to a lower elevation. It’s a drastic measure, but for some, it’s the only way to find relief.
Our Experience with Altitude Sickness
One of the main reasons we left Cuenca back in 2020 was because of the elevation.
I’ve had episodes of altitude sickness both in Ecuador and previously in Colorado when we went to Summit County to go skiing. Sometimes, the symptoms were so severe that descending to a lower elevation was the only remedy.
However, after years of eating healthy and living the tranquilo Ecuadorian lifestyle, I no longer have issues with the elevation. In fact, we’re living at high elevation now and I haven’t had a single issue for over a year.
Most people adjust to the elevation in 3 to 5 days. That’s typically enough time for your body to increase the production of red blood cells, aiding in acclimatization.
If your body has difficulty adjusting, try one or more of the remedies listed above. Most importantly, drink lots of water and rest.
Watch Our Video About How to Treat Altitude Sickness
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