What Every Mountain Bride Needs to Know about Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness and Mountain weddingsPhoto by IN Photography exclusively for Mountainside Bride

There is nothing quite like the spectacular beauty of high mountain ranges in the West and Canada. Many mountain couples dream of delighting and amazing guests with a backdrop of stunning mountain peaks. But if you're planning on having your wedding in the mountains you and your guests are unfortunate at risk for altitude sickness. While altitude sickness can happen at altitudes above 5,000, it is most common at elevations above 8,000 feet.

What is altitude sickness:

For many guests, high altitude sickness can feel like a bad hangover. It is most often accompanies by a headache and may leave you or a guest feeling tired, unmotivated, and like staying in bed. You may feel nauseated, dizzy and have trouble sleeping. You may also notice that you're short of breath when you try to exert yourself. Even climbing a set of stairs can leave you winded. Altitude sickness typically lasts between 24-48 hours. While it won't kill you, it will hamper you're ability to truly enjoy yourself and your wedding activities.

Who is at risk for altitude sickness?

Everyone. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, fit or out-of-shape, male or female. If you're going from low elevation to above 5,000 feet, you are at risk for getting altitude sickness.

Can altitude sickness kill you?

Yes, but it probably won't. Typically altitude sickness feels like a bad hangover and it will go away in a day or two as your body adjusts to your environment. However, it is important to monitor signs of altitude sickness for High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).

What is HACE and HAPE?

HACE is a condition where the small amount of swelling of the brian that occurs with Altitude sickness becomes acute. HACE is marked by a severe headache and disorientation. Symptoms can also include vomiting, seizures and coma.

HAPE is a condition where fluid starts to build up in your lungs. Signs of HAPE include shortness of breath, a persistent cough and coughing blood. HACE and

Both HACE and HAPE typically occur at higher elevations and are most common above 13,000 feet. The only way to treat any kind of altitude sickness, whether mild or severe, is to slowly descend to lower elevations. If you suspect that you or one of your guests is experiencing severe altitude sickness, including HACE or HAPE, seek medical attention immediately.

Preventing Altitude Sickness

  • Spend the night at a lower elevation. If you're a Colorado Bride, have your guests stay a night in Denver. Coming to Mammoth Lakes? Have them acclimatize in Bishop. Going to Lake Tahoe? Spend the night in Reno.
  • Hire a Local Wedding Planner. A skilled local wedding planner will be able to discuss low elevation options for accommodations and guide you and your guests in the event of a medical emergency. I understand that you may want a stylist from your home city, but it makes sense to also hire a local planner who understands the unique risks of planning a high altitude wedding.
  • Drive instead of Fly. If you or your guests must fly into your destination, consider flying into a lower altitude city and driving up into the mountains. This will give your body time to acclimate as you slowly ascend into the mountains. For example, instead of flying into Mammoth Lakes, which has an airport at 7,000 feet, fly into Reno and make the 3-hour drive to Mammoth. Again, your local wedding planner can offer suggestions for low-altitude air service.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol. Not only does alcohol dehydrate you, it can suppress breathing and result in lower oxygen absorption at altitude. Avoid drinking your first day or two at altitude. If you want to drink at your wedding or welcome BBQ, arrive at your mountain destination a day or two early to give your body time to adjust.
  • Stay Hydrated. The air is drier at altitude and can exacerbate symptoms of altitude sickness. It's important to drink plenty of water at altitude. A good way to test if you're hydrated is to look at your urine. Clear urine indicates you're hydrated, and dark yellow urine indicates that you need to drink more water. Keep in mind it is possible to drink too much water. Check out Telluride's High Altitude Medicine page for myths and details of altitude sickness.
  • Talk to your Doctor about medications that can help prevent altitude sickness.  Diamox® is a prescription drug that is known to prevent altitude sickness in 75% of adults when taken a couple of days before acending to altitude.

Guest Comfort at Altitude

Offer information about high altitude health on your wedding website. You may also want to include a separate card in your invitation suite about high altitude health. Finally, consider including the following high altitude tips and extra water in your welcome bags and baskets:

  • Information of high altitude health. Most high altitude hospitals have a rack card with high altitude tips and symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Extra water and a note encouraging guests to stay hydrated.
  • Encourage guests to play high, sleep low. If you're planning activities at higher elevations, like skiing, hiking, or mountain bikingLook, for accommodations at lower elevations. This may be in a different section of town, or in a different town all together. For example, where I live in Mammoth Lakes, you can stay at resort levels at 9,000 feet, or you can stay in town at 7,500 feet. If guests are new to a high altitude, make sure to suggest accommodations at lower elevations.
  • Include tips and itineraries for acclimatizing. An important part of acclimatizing is ascending to higher altitude slowly and taking it easy for the first day or two at altitude. Include suggested activities that don't require strenuous exertion.

Altitude Sickness Resources: