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Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

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Melbourne, Australia
posts: 2
reviews: 73
Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

I arrived in Cusco early yesterday (6.30am) after flying from Lima (and before that, Buenos Aires). I felt pretty light headed within an hour of landing and we rested at our hotel as advised. By 2pm I was in agony, a splitting headache, nausea (which led to vomiting), restlessness, and feeling very off balance. We called a doctor who tested my oxygen levels and they were low at 82%. I got admitted to the oxygen clinic and got put on oxygen and an IV for 18 hrs. Staff were fantastic and checked me regularly. I was diagnosed with acute altitude sickness. I wanted to post this as I am a healthy 29 year old and did not think I would get such severe symptoms so quickly. As I have been travelling for 4 months and only decided to come to cusco recently, I was not able to see a doctor before coming, but I would urge travellers to read up and seek medical advise prior to coming here. I am feeling better now and am crossing everything that I will be ok to visit Machu Picchu tomorrow.

45 replies to this topic
Evansville, Indiana
Destination Expert
for Peru
posts: 2,827
reviews: 15
1. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

So sorry you felt so sick at your arrival. Actually MP is at a lower altitude so you should feel better there.

Destination Expert
for Los Angeles, Palm Desert
posts: 11,229
reviews: 137
2. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

Thanks for posting your experience. It does happen.

Chicago, Illinois
posts: 5,184
reviews: 75
3. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

MP is a lot lower in altitude so you should almost definitely feel better there. It is a pretty big jump in altitude from Lima to Cusco. We stayed in Ollantaytambo and MP for a few days before going to Cusco, to help acclimate, and it seemed to work.

posts: 2
reviews: 1
4. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

That's awful - I'm so sorry to hear that.

I'm going to be flying Iquitos - Lima - Cusco in one day so I'm a bit worried now as I thought "it won't happen to me". Did the doctor advise anything that you could have done to prevent it?

Lima, Peru
Destination Expert
for Cusco, Lima, Arequipa, Peru
posts: 15,655
reviews: 279
5. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

Upon arrival to Cusco city one should go to the Sacred Valley for easier acclimatization as it is 600 meters lower in altitude and under the 3000 meter threshold which is the limit at which altitude affects your body. Then visit MP and after go up to Cusco city.

Sorry to hear about your bad experience but thank you very much for posting it for other travelers to learn about the dangers of this sickness

Guangzhou, China
Destination Expert
for Guangzhou
posts: 940
reviews: 53
6. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

Sorry to know your story and happy that you are better now. I just came back from Cusco and I did not have much altitude sickness. I am 27 and did not travel before Cusco. I flied from Lima to Cusco directly. There is a shop giving free coca leaves in Cusco airport and I chewed some. I also bought some coca candies and ate quite some. I don't usually eat sweets, but I had Inka cola and all the carbohydrate snacks on the flight to Cusco (I read somewhere and it says one should eat more carbohydrate and less protein/fat when arrive highland). But that noon I had alpaca steak and went to Sacsayhuaman in the afternoon... I was fine. Slightly headache and a little bit pressure on chest. I had ginseng ahead of time and maybe that helped a bit. You have great time in MP. I am lack of word to describe it. Purely amazing.

Northwich, United...
posts: 877
reviews: 51
7. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

We flew from the UK at Lima and straight to Cusco where we stayed 3 mights before the Inca Trail. We did tours to SV though but stayed at Cusco overnight, we were OK.

Hope u feel better soon, agree some sugar can also help, Inca Kola or sweets.

Phoenix, Arizona
posts: 367
reviews: 33
8. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

My husband and I have never experienced altitude sickness. We live at about 1200 ft elevation and travel frequently to 5000-7000 elevations. We also lived in Albuquerque years ago which is at 5000 ft. We even spent a week at over 9000 ft with no ill affects.

We were in South America last in 2008. Flew directly into Quito and spent 2 days before and after our Galapagos Cruise. Up and down. Up and down. No problems but a little seasick when the cruise began.

Our planned trip to Peru flies us into Lima, on to Arequipa, across to Puno for 3 nights and then to Cusco and MP. We were told the itinerary was planned to minimize the altitude adjustment. Considering our past travels, what are our chances of the ill affects the OP described?

We are sorry to hear that her trip was interrupted and hope all turns out well when she arrives in MP.

Destination Expert
for Los Angeles, Palm Desert
posts: 11,229
reviews: 137
9. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

I'm sure you've read that Puno is at 12,500 feet which is significantly higher than Quito. People who do okay at Cusco (11,000 feet) sometimes still have problems in Puno. And both places are higher than Quito.

There is no way to predict how you will react. You still may have problems in Puno (especially the first night) no matter what you do beforehand. Most hotels in Puno for oxygen and that will help you adjust. Some people forget to ask.

If by "across to Puno" you mean you are going via Colca Canyon and spending a few nights around the canyon rim (Chivay, etc), that should help a little. But no guarantees.

Edited: 1:30 pm, June 07, 2013
Phoenix, Arizona
posts: 367
reviews: 33
10. Re: Acute Altitude Sickness- my story

Thanks mlbj

I did forget to add the Colca/Chivay portion of our trip. We will spend a day and night there. The reason I have asked is that we often spend time at high altitude and never have had a problem. We spent a day at over 12,000ft last year in Rocky Mountain NP. Does altitude sickness come on after prolonged time or are the effects felt immediately?

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