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How To Avoid Altitude Sickness In Denver

You probably won't notice it, until you try to climb a flight of stairs — just a few steps, and you feel winded. Welcome to life at 5,280 feet above sea level.

Aside from being reminded that you're getting older, there are few side effects for most people who have a healthy heart and lungs. The plane ride out to Denver actually helped your body adjust some.

"Those airplanes are pressurized to about 6,000 to 7,000 feet," says Dr. Benjamin Honigman from the Altitude Research Center in Aurora, Colo.

He warns against going directly from Denver International Airport up into the mountains, though. When you start getting above 8,000 feet, the air can have up to a third less oxygen than at sea level. Under those circumstances, about one in four people will experience acute mountain sickness.

"That is characterized by headache, sleeplessness, some nausea or loss of appetite," says Honigman, "but that goes away after a day or two."

You may have heard that at higher elevations you don't have to drink as much alcohol to get drunk.

"That's an urban myth," says Honigman "Alcohol, itself, is not metabolized any differently."

But alcohol can dehydrate you, and Denver has a dry climate.

To compensate for the climate, Honigman says most people should drink 24 to 36 ounces more water than normal.

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Jeff Brady
Jeff Brady is the Climate and Energy Correspondent on NPR's Climate Desk. He reports on the intersection of climate change and politics to reveal whether and how the U.S. is meeting its obligations to address the breakdown of the climate. And his reporting examines who's reshaping the energy system and who are the winners and losers. A key element of Brady's reporting is holding accountable those who block or stall efforts to address climate change in an effort to preserve their business.