Welcome to Mexico City, a vibrant metropolis 7,350 feet above sea level. This bustling city, home to over 9 million people, is not only the highest population high-altitude city in the world but also a place where culture, history, and modernity blend seamlessly.

However, its higher elevation can present a unique challenge to visitors, especially those who are not accustomed to such heights.

Altitude sickness, often described as feeling similar to the flu, is a common issue for travelers ascending to high elevations. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe, flu-like symptoms and can potentially disrupt your travel plans.

But don’t let this deter you from exploring the wonders of Mexico City. With the right preparation, you can prevent altitude sickness and enjoy everything this high-altitude city offers.

Staying hydrated is one of the most effective ways to combat altitude sickness. Just like you would pack an umbrella for a rainy day, packing a water bottle and keeping it filled can be your best defense against the effects of high altitude.

In this article, I’ll delve deeper into Mexico City altitude sickness, how it affects your body, and, most importantly, how to prevent it during your visit to Mexico City.

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What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness, alternatively referred to as acute mountain sickness, is a condition that may arise when ascending to high altitudes at a rapid pace. It’s essentially your body’s response to getting less oxygen due to the decrease in atmospheric pressure.

You see, as you climb higher above sea level, the amount of pressure in the atmosphere or barometric pressure drops. This means that with each breath you take, you’re getting less oxygen than you’re used to.

Your body, always striving to maintain a balance, tries to adjust to this change, but when it can’t keep up, symptoms of altitude sickness can kick in.

It’s a bit like running a race at a pace you’re not accustomed to – you might be able to keep up for a while, but eventually, you will feel the strain. Understanding altitude sickness is the first step to preventing it, ensuring your high-altitude adventures are memorable for all the right reasons.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

As you ascend to higher altitudes, it’s crucial to know the potential symptoms of altitude sickness. These can vary in severity and may include the following:

  • Dehydration: The dry air at high altitudes can cause you to lose more water through breathing, leading to dehydration.
  • Difficulty Breathing: As your body struggles to get enough oxygen, you might experience difficulty breathing, especially during physical exertion.
  • Dizziness: A common symptom of altitude sickness, dizziness can occur as your body adjusts to the lower oxygen levels (just like sea sickness)
  • Nausea and Sickness: Feeling nauseous or sick is another common symptom, often accompanied by a loss of appetite.
  • Headaches: The change in atmospheric pressure can often lead to headaches, which can range from mild to severe.
  • Fatigue and Weakness: You may feel unusually tired or weak as your body works harder to function with less oxygen.
  • Insomnia or Trouble Sleeping: Despite feeling fatigued, you might have difficulty sleeping – another common symptom of altitude sickness.
  • Loss of Appetite: You might find that you’re not as hungry as usual or that food doesn’t taste the same.
  • Swelling of Face, Hands, or Feet: Also known as edema, this swelling can occur due to the body’s response to the lower oxygen levels.
  • Irritability: Mood changes, including becoming easily annoyed or irritable, can signify altitude sickness.

Types of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can be categorized into three types, each with varying degrees of severity:

  1. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): This represents the mildest and most frequently encountered manifestation of altitude sickness. The symptoms bear resemblance to those of a hangover, including headache, nausea, and fatigue.
  2. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): This is a more severe form of altitude sickness and occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, and fatigue. HAPE, or High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema, poses a significant risk to life and necessitates prompt medical intervention.
  3. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): This condition represents the most severe form of altitude sickness, characterized by the buildup of fluid in the brain. It poses a life-threatening risk and can lead to confusion, lack of coordination, and difficulty maintaining balance. Immediate descent and medical treatment are necessary.

Remember, if you’re planning to visit Mexico City, it’s important to understand these conditions and their symptoms.

Understanding Mexico City Altitude

Colorful Xochilmico boats. Mexico City altitude sickness can occur for newcomers to the city.

Nestled in the southeastern region of Mexico, embraced by the breathtaking Valley of Mexico, you’ll discover the bustling and vibrant capital city – Mexico City.

This valley, commonly called the Basin of Mexico, lies within the expansive high plateaus in the heart of the country. Mexico City’s elevation is an impressive altitude of 2,240 meters (7,350 feet) above sea level; it proudly claims its position among the eighth highest capital city. [5].

The city is situated in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, nestled within the elevated plateaus of south-central Mexico. The area is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes that reach elevations of over 5,000 meters (16,404 feet).

To the south, you’ll find the majestic Ajusco, Popocatepetl, and Iztaccihuatl volcanoes, while to the north, the stunning Sierra de Guadalupe mountains await.

Mexico City elevation is a significant factor in its climate, contributing to its temperate weather and cool nights, despite its tropical latitude.

However, the city’s altitude and pollution have also been associated with serious health issues, including respiratory problems, particularly for people with pre-existing conditions.

The city’s location in a high-altitude basin also makes it prone to problems with water supply and waste disposal.

The basin was originally filled with lakes, but over the centuries, as the city grew, most of these were drained to prevent flooding. This has led to problems with the sinking water supply for the city.

Comparison of Mexico City with Other High-Altitude Cities

Mexico City is one of the highest cities in the world. However, it is not the highest. Here are some cities with higher altitudes:

  • La Paz, Bolivia: La Paz, perched at an elevation of approximately 11,975 feet above sea level, proudly holds the title of being the highest administrative capital in the world.
  • Quito, Ecuador: Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is located at an altitude of 9,350 feet.
  • Cusco, Peru: Cusco, known as the historical capital of Peru, sits at an elevation of 11,152 feet.

Why Mexico City’s Altitude Can Be Challenging For Some

The high altitude of Mexico City can pose challenges for some people, particularly those not accustomed to such heights. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Reduced Oxygen Levels: The air pressure is lower at higher altitudes, which means fewer oxygen molecules that your red blood cells can bind. This can lead you to develop altitude sickness, characterized by symptoms like headaches, nausea, and fatigue.
  2. Dehydration: The air at higher altitudes is often drier, which can lead to increased water loss from the body, potentially causing dehydration.
  3. Sun Exposure: At higher altitudes, the thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation. This can lead to an increased risk of sunburn and long-term skin damage. Head to Mexico City prepared with protective sun lotion.
  4. Difficulty in Physical Activities: Due to the lower oxygen levels, physical activities can be more challenging as the body struggles to supply enough oxygen to the muscles.

It’s important to note that while these challenges can be significant, many people live in Mexico City and other high-altitude cities without major issues. The human body can adapt to high altitudes over time, known as acclimatization.

Mexico City Altitude Sickness Pre-travel Preparations

View of Teotihuacan Mexico City Pyramids

As you plan your trip to Mexico City, it’s essential to prepare adequately for the high altitude to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here are some key pre-travel preparations to consider:

Consultation with a Healthcare Professional

Before traveling to high-altitude locations like Mexico City, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized advice based on your health history and current condition.

They may also recommend or prescribe medication to help prevent or manage altitude sickness. You should also take out health insurance when traveling to Mexico City in case you need medical attention.

Proper Research and Understanding of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can affect visitors to Mexico City due to its high altitude of 7,349 feet (2,240 meters). Symptoms can range from headaches and nausea to vomiting and fatigue.

Altitude sickness can make a trip truly miserable if not managed effectively, as its symptoms can vary greatly from person to person.

By comprehending the causes and effects of this condition, you can adequately prepare yourself and take the necessary precautions to ensure a smoother experience.

Acclimatization Techniques Before Arrival

Gradual Exposure to Higher Altitudes

One of the best ways to deal with altitude sickness is to acclimate slowly. If you’re going directly from sea level to Mexico City, your body might be in shock from the drastic increase in altitude.

You should plan on spending several days in Mexico City before traveling any higher up into the mountains or other areas where there is less oxygen available.

This will give your body time to adjust gradually to the new environment and will prevent your body from struggling with low oxygen levels suddenly, which would lead to symptoms such as headaches and nausea from altitude sickness.

Physical Fitness and Exercise

Avoid strenuous activity and exercise until you’ve acclimatized to the altitude. You should know within two days of arrival when you don’t exhibit any symptoms of altitude sickness. Once acclimated, you can pick up your activity level.

However, it’s important to remember that those who engage in heavy exercise or physical labor may experience symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or fatigue and weakness. This can possibly lead to even more serious altitude sickness.

By following these tips and techniques, you can better prepare for your trip to high-altitude locations and minimize the risk of altitude sickness.

Mexico City Altitude Sickness: Helpful Prevention Tips

Beautiful cacti growing in Mexico City. Mexico City altitude sickness can be experienced in 1-2 days of arrival.

1. Stay Hydrated

One of the most effective strategies to prevent altitude sickness in Mexico City is to stay well-hydrated. The high altitude can often lead to rapid water loss from the body, making dehydration a common issue.

Drinking 12-16 cups of water daily is recommended to combat this. This will help maintain your body’s hydration levels and reduce the risk of altitude sickness symptoms. 

If you’re staying in an accommodation with a stove, consider boiling the tap water before drinking. This can help ensure the water is safe to consume.

Also, consider adding electrolytes to your water or buying an electrolyte beverage from time to time. 

Remember, maintaining proper hydration is not just about drinking plenty of water but also about ensuring your water is clean and safe.

2. Limit Alcohol And Caffeine Intake

While you might be tempted to indulge in a few drinks or cups of coffee during your visit to Mexico City, it’s important to limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine can lead to dehydration, which can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude sickness.

Moreover, the symptoms of a hangover, such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, are strikingly similar to those of altitude sickness. This can make it difficult to distinguish between the two, potentially leading to a misjudgment of your condition.

By limiting your intake of these substances, you can help your body stay hydrated and better equipped to handle the high altitude. 

3. Slow Down And Take It Easy

When you arrive in Mexico City, it’s crucial to slow down and take it easy, especially during the first few days.

The high altitude can take a toll on your body, and rushing into strenuous activities or traveling to even higher altitudes can exacerbate the symptoms of altitude sickness. Instead, spend several days in Mexico City to allow your body to adjust to the new altitude.

Use this time to explore the city leisurely, taking in the sights and sounds without exerting too much. Once you feel acclimated, you can consider traveling to higher altitudes or engaging in more strenuous activities.

Remember, your health and comfort should be your top priority.

4. Avoid Strenuous Activities Upon Arrival

Engaging in strenuous activities immediately upon arrival in Mexico City can be challenging due to the city’s high altitude. The lower oxygen levels at such heights can make physical exertion more difficult than at sea level.

This is because your body requires time to acclimate to the reduced oxygen levels in the atmosphere and the shift in pressure. When you engage in physical activities, your muscles require more oxygen.

At high altitudes, where the oxygen level is lower, your body has to work harder to supply the necessary oxygen. This can lead to symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or fatigue and weakness.

These symptoms are more pronounced in individuals who are not acclimated to high altitudes or who are engaging in strenuous physical labor or exercise. Therefore, it’s advisable to take it easy for the first few days after arriving in Mexico City.

Allow your body time to adjust to the new altitude before engaging in strenuous activities. This will help minimize the risk of altitude sickness and make your stay in the city more enjoyable.

5. Consider Using Altitude Sickness Medications

In addition to natural acclimatization and lifestyle adjustments, there are also various altitude sickness medications and products available that can help manage and prevent the symptoms. Here are a few options you might consider:

  • Altitude Sickness Bands: These wristbands apply pressure to certain points on your wrist, which can help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Altitude Sickness Patch: These patches are applied to the skin and release medication over time to help prevent or reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness.
  • Queasy Pops: These are lollipops specially formulated to help alleviate nausea, a common symptom of altitude sickness.
  • Liquid Chlorophyll: Some people find that consuming liquid chlorophyll can help their bodies adjust to the lower oxygen levels at high altitudes, thereby reducing the symptoms of altitude sickness.

6. Use Natural Remedies

Natural remedies can also be a helpful tool in preventing and managing altitude sickness. One such remedy that is often used in high-altitude regions is the consumption of coca tea or chewing coca leaves.

These leaves, native to South America, have been used by indigenous populations for centuries to combat the effects of high altitude.

Another potential remedy is the supplementation of Glutathione. Glutathione is an amino acid often called the body’s master antioxidant. It helps protect your body from oxidative stress, which can be exacerbated by factors such as high altitudes.

A study has shown that high-altitude hypoxia (low oxygen) can deplete Glutathione levels by as much as 45%. Therefore, supplementing Glutathione can help replenish your levels and potentially mitigate some of the negative effects of high altitude.

However, it’s important to note that while these remedies can be helpful, they are not a substitute for proper acclimatization and should be used with other preventative measures.

7. Avoid Smoking

Smoking can also play a role in the likelihood of experiencing altitude sickness in high-altitude locations like Mexico City.

Smokers were found to have a higher incidence of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) compared to non-smokers. Smokers experienced higher blood pressures in response to lower oxygen levels in higher altitudes, which could worsen symptoms of altitude sickness.

Coping With Altitude Sickness Symptoms

Home near Casa Barragan house in Mexico City, a high-altitude city

When visiting high-altitude locations like Mexico City, it’s essential to know how to cope with altitude sickness symptoms effectively should they arise. Here are some key strategies to keep in mind:

  • Recognize the Symptoms: Be aware of the common symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
  • Rest and Hydrate: If you start to feel unwell, it’s important to rest, hydrate, and avoid strenuous activities.
  • Descend if Necessary: If your symptoms worsen or don’t improve with rest and hydration, you should descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
  • Seek Medical Attention: If symptoms become severe, such as experiencing difficulty breathing at rest, confusion, or inability to walk in a straight line, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Use Medication if Prescribed: If you have been prescribed medication for altitude sickness by a healthcare professional, make sure to take it as directed.

Remember, the best way to cope with altitude sickness is to prevent it in the first place. Take time to acclimate to the higher altitude, stay hydrated, and listen to your body.

Safety Precautions and When to Seek Medical Help

Although sickness is typically mild and self-limiting, there are instances when it can advance to more severe conditions such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), both of which pose life-threatening risks.

Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of the danger signs. If you or someone else experiences severe breathlessness, a severe headache that doesn’t respond to painkillers, confusion, clumsiness, or difficulty walking, it’s time to seek immediate medical help.

These symptoms could indicate a more serious form of altitude sickness and require urgent attention.

Seeking Medical Assistance if Symptoms Worsen or Persist

If you’re in Mexico City and your symptoms of altitude sickness worsen or persist for more than a day or two, it’s important to seek medical assistance. Don’t try to tough it out, as this could lead to serious health complications.

A healthcare professional can provide appropriate treatment, including oxygen therapy or medication. In severe cases, it may be necessary to descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible.

Remember, the goal is to ensure your safety and health while enjoying your visit to Mexico City.

Mexico City Travel Tip: If you need to visit a doctor and are not fluent in Spanish, simply download the Google Translate App.

FAQs: Mexico City Altitude Sickness (2023)

What are the common symptoms of altitude sickness?

Symptoms may include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty sleeping.

How can I prevent altitude sickness in Mexico City?

Gradual acclimatization, staying hydrated, avoiding alcohol are helpful to reducing the chance of altitude sickness.

Who is most at risk of altitude sickness in Mexico City?

Anyone can be affected, but those with respiratory conditions, heart problems, or have a history of altitude sickness are at risk.

How long does it take to adjust to Mexico City’s altitude?

It varies but will most often take between a day or 2-3 days to acclimate.

Can children experience altitude sickness?

Yes, children can be affected by altitude sickness. Parents should be cautious and seek medical advice if necessary.

Can altitude sickness occur at any altitude?

Altitude sickness typically occurs above 2,500 meters (8,000 feet), but susceptibility varies among individuals.

Conclusion

Visiting Mexico City, a high-altitude city, can be a unique experience. However, it’s essential to prepare for potential altitude sickness. Key points to remember include staying hydrated, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and taking it easy initially to acclimate to the altitude.

If you experience symptoms of altitude sickness, know how to cope and when to seek help.

Mexico City offers a wealth of cultural and culinary delights. Don’t let altitude sickness deter you. With the right precautions, you can fully enjoy this vibrant city. So, remember these tips and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in Mexico City!

Mexico City Altitude Sickness & Helpful Tips (2023)

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