A journey to Tibet, one of the most remote regions in the world, can be an incredible experience, but you have to be ready to counter the unique atmospheric conditions that characterize the Tibetan plateau. Tibet has an average elevation of 4500 meters, and if you don’t regularly live at high altitude, you altitude sickness could put a real damper on your trip. Here are some things to remember before and during your trip to make your high-altitude Tibet travels more comfortable.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air because the “air is thinner” at high altitude. Common symptoms include headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and weariness.
Who’s at risk?
Contrary to popular belief, risk is not affected by training or fitness. Children and adults are both equally susceptible to altitude sickness although travelers over the age of 50 are at slightly lower risk according to the CDC. Note that travelers with heart or lung problems should first consult with their doctor before traveling to Tibet.
1. Don’t be a hero, get medication
Acetazolamide is a particularly effective treatment for altitude sickness because it does not simply mask the symptoms, but accelerates the body’s acclimatization to high altitude, but it is difficult to obtain in China so we recommend that you visit your doctor in your home country before you travel. There are other medications such as dexamethasone and nifedipine available, but they are usually only recommended by doctors if the patient is allergic to sulfa, a primary ingredient in Acetazolamide. All-natural alternatives such as Ginkgo biloba and Rhodiola rosea do exist but research on their effectiveness is conflicting. For more information on high-altitude medications, visit the CDC or NHS websites.
Don’t do things to make altitude sickness worse. Alcohol and sleeping pills are prime culprits. These are both are respiratory depressants and can make it more difficult for your body to acclimatize. Furthermore, alcohol can dehydrate you and leave you even more vulnerable to the altitude. On that note…
3. Drink lots of water!
Getting dehydrated is probably the worst thing you can do when trying to adjust to a higher altitude, and Tibet’s dry climate makes that an even bigger possibility. Don’t make altitude symptoms worse – drink up! (and we water!)
4. Don’t forget to eat
Even though altitude sickness can make you loose your appetite, it’s important to keep eating and get your body the energy it needs. Carbohydrates are especially important, as they are a more efficient source of energy than fats or protein and can improve blood oxygenation.
5. Take it easy
This is perhaps the most difficult piece of advice for visitors to follow as there is so much to see and do in Tibet, but on your first couple of days in town, relax. Give your body time to acclimate to its new altitude.
If you have any other questions on traveling to Tibet, contact a WildChina travel designer, and we’ll be happy to help. To begin your journey, view our award-winning Tibet tour.