Mountain Sickness! Altitude Increases Your Chance of Migraines!

January 3rd, 2012

SOME OF THE MOST SEVERE MIGRAINES THAT HAVE EVER BEEN REPORTED TO US HAVE OCCURRED DURING SKIING TRIPS.

This is not surprising and in fact a condition called “High Attitude Headaches” (HAH) is described in the medical literature.  It is part of a more extensive syndrome called “Acute Mountain Sickness, which has additional symptoms like:  loss of appetite, nausea and sleeping problems.

HAH is common in mountain climbers and skiers and tends to occur more when the altitude is 7000 ft. or higher, and the risk increases as the altitude goes up.

Remember the altitude of a town is sometimes expressed as its base altitude, not the highest altitude when at the top of the mountain. So while a town with an altitude of 5500 ft is under the 7000 ft level, the altitude at the top of the mountain could easily be 7000 ft. or above. The lower the altitude, the less risk there is of developing HAH.

Headache relief may come from descending to lower altitudes and inhaling oxygen, though some migraines once started will not respond to this.  If non-responsive, sufferers can try whatever rescue medicines they think work for them. For non-migrainous headaches, analgesics like paracetamol or ibuprofen may help, less so with migraines.

Prevention

    • Ascend to higher altitudes slowly
    • Avoid over-exertion (which may be difficult if skiing), if you have experienced HAH previously, allow 2 days to acclimate before exertion
    • Limit alcohol as much as possible
    • Drink lots of water

 

    So, if you are planning a skiing trip and headaches, especially migraines are an issue that you repeatedly deal with, if possible, you may want to choose a location where the base altitude is under 5000 ft. high.  Remember the actual altitude at the top of the mountain can be 2000 ft. higher than the base in some locations.

Below is the base altitude of some of the top ski resorts in both the Eastern and Western United States.

 

Base Altitude of Ski Resorts – Western United States*

1. Vail, Colorado  8150 ft.

2. Aspen, Colorado 7909 ft.

3. Alta, Utah  8950 f.

4. Jackson Hole, Wyoming  6500 ft.

5. Snowbird, Utah 8100 ft.

6. Breckenridge, Colorado 9600 ft.

7. Taos, New Mexico 6967 ft,

8. Telluride, Colorado 8750 ft.

9. Sun Valley, Idaho 5920 ft

10. Heavenly, California 6500 ft.

11. Squaw Valley, California 6200 ft.

12. Crested Butte, Colorado 8885 ft.

13. Big Bear, California 6750 ft.

14. Mammoth, California 7950 ft.

 

*This is the altitude at the base of the city; the heights at the top of the mountains in these cities can be over 10,000 ft for some locations.
Ski Resorts – Eastern United States

1. Stowe, Vermont  723 ft.

2. Lake Placid, New York 1800 ft.

3. Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont 1030 ft.

4. Mount Washington Resort, New Hampshire 3625 ft.

5. Burke Mountain, Vermont 1256 ft.

6. Killington, Vermont  1165 ft.

7. Jackson, New Hampshire  1026 ft.

8. Jay Peak, Vermont 2153 ft.

9. Sugarloaf, Maine  1417 ft.

10. Okemo, Vermont 1134 ft.

Some of the most severe migraines that have ever been reported to us have occurred during skiing trips.