Headaches occur commonly at an altitude of greater than 8,500 feet. Colorado Springs being at an altitude of 6,035 feet may fall short, but many in our city will say they notice a reduction in their symptoms when traveling to sea level. It is also not uncommon to find the local Colorado Springs residence traveling to 8,500 feet or above for a weekend of skiing or hiking.
So what is the relationship between altitude and headaches?
According to Dr. David Dodick who is an Associate Professor of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ a “headache may be a prominent symptom in people with chronic exposure to high altitude. In a study of 379 adult men who lived for more than ten years in Peru at an altitude of 4,300 meters (14,200 feet), nearly half (47%) complained of recurrent headaches—either migraine (32%) or tension-type headache (15%). The occurrence of migraine and tension-type headache increased with age in this group of people, where the opposite was observed at sea level.”
Since migraine occurs more commonly when the blood level of oxygen falls, this might explain why headaches seem to increase in those who live at higher altitudes.
It is not crystal clear what the mechanism is, but we do know that there is a relationship between altitude and headaches.
A couple suggestions:
1) Drink water. Staying hydrated can go a log way in preventing altitude related headaches and a condition called acute mountain sickness for those visiting the area.
2) If planning a weekend in the mountains, book your hotel at a lower elevation. While hiking or skiing is done at higher elevations, you may allow the body to recover by sleeping at a lower elevation.
3) At Novera, we have seen this as a common problem and many are able to find relief with our approach. Skiing and hiking seem like essential parts of life to many, and we would love to help you continue to enjoy the outdoors without worry of headaches.