Living at elevation

Peru, Tibet, Kashmir and Bolivia all have something in common – they are home to some of the highest altitude cities in the world. Everything is slightly different up there –sometimes so much so, you might not notice. Other differences may appear slight at first, but can be life threatening. Altitude sickness is the main reason people come to grief when they move to places that are very high up, but it’s also something that members of the local population struggle with, too.

For a long time, scientists wondered why certain individuals in high-altitude communities – Tibetans, Pacenos and so on – suffered from altitude sickness, despite having been born at high altitude and having spent their lives there, surrounded by family and friends who are not affected. Well, now we know the answer – it’s genetic. There are those who inherit a gene which prevents altitude sickness from occurring and those who don’t.

This means that if you’ve never been at altitude before, you might want to try staying there for a while before you commit to living there full-time. You give yourself a better chance if you keep your body in good shape, and stay at gradually higher intervals before you arrive at your destination in order to let your body adapt. If you start to feel sick, return to a lower height – your life could depend on it.

Once you have been living at altitude for a number of months, your body will have adapted well. This doesn’t mean that you can’t suffer from altitude sickness, however – you might be okay now but if you try climbing a mountain it could come on rapidly. So you always need to be careful when making trips around the area.

The flipside of living with the risk of altitude sickness, is that studies are starting to show that people who live in high places tend to live longer than those who live closer to sea level. This is due to a reduced chance of dying of heart disease. It was previously thought that those who are at risk from heart disease shouldn’t travel to high altitude areas, but this is due to the likelihood of the change in elevation having a negative effect on their condition.

One of the best things about living high up is the sky. During the daytime, you’re often above cloud level, which means the sky will be a beautiful clear blue all day, every day. Don’t forget to get your sunglasses from Sunglass Picks before you go!And be very aware of the risk of sunburn – you should try to keep your skin covered at such heights to avoid damaging it. At nighttime you’ll have the most incredible views of the heavens. You won’t imagine just how many stars you can see at night.

The fact that, at very high altitudes, when you are out and about, your body will be in a state of hypoxia – you aren’t getting enough oxygen to your organs and muscles as your body needs – means that you need to take regular breaks. The good thing is that with all the spectacular mountain views that there are to take in, you will most likely want to take regular rests anyway, just to take in the scenery.

There are other differences which it helps to know about, too. For example, you may need to tune your car’s engine differently at high altitude in order to keep it running properly and efficiently. And not just your car engine – altitude can affect every engine, from ones in snowblowers to ones in big trucks.

Plenty of electronic devices suffer at altitude, too – you might notice a poorer performance from your laptop or TV, especially if it has a plasma screen. Printer cartridges may cause problems due to the pressurized ink in them – you might find that your printed document looks like you gave your infant child a paint brush and told them to write it.

The main thing is to be prepared. Always consult with a medical professional before knowingly going to high altitudes, keep yourself fit, know what to expect and have an emergency plan in case things go wrong and someone starts to feel sick.