Counteracting altitude effects

A year ago I posted in the “Person to Person” section a request for altitude sickness remedies because I was taking a group of people to Peru in June ’07; I own a yoga studio, and we lead an international yoga retreat every year. I experienced problems the first time I was in Cusco several years ago, so I wanted to avoid that. I received many helpful replies, and this is my report on the remedies as tested out in our group of 28, plus a remedy I discovered by chance.

Even though I had decided to take Diamox and, in fact, carried a prescription of it with me, I ended up not using it. I had used motion-sickness patches for a sailing trip in Turkey just a month prior and didn’t want to deal with any more side effects.

Several people in the group did take Diamox and that worked well for them. A couple of them experienced some tingling in the extremities and/or dry mouth. One person was allergic to sulfur and could not take Diamox.

I used the local remedy, readily available in Cusco. I regret I cannot remember the name of it, but all the drugstores in the city have it. All you have to do is ask for the remedy for “soroche.”

This herbal remedy worked for both my daughter and myself, even though our symptoms were different: shortness of breath and lightheadedness for me and headaches for her. I was not completely symptom free but was sufficiently well to function adequately.

I supplemented the local remedy with coca tea, adding coca leaves to the tea bags so the brew would be even stronger. I suppose chewing the leaves as the locals do might have helped even more, but I didn’t go that far.

In Peru, during an afternoon practice by our yoga group I found instant relief from lightheadedness when I went upside down. The improvement was astounding. I had others in the group try it and they had the same experience. It makes sense physiologically since this brings more blood flow and oxygen to the brain.

Here’s an easy version. Lie on your back with your pelvis elevated and bring your legs up to form a 90-degree angle. I used a yoga block to elevate my pelvis, but you can also do this with pillows, cushions or even a phone book. If you were to do this while resting your buttocks and raised legs against a wall, there would be little or no effort. You can also do this in front of a chair and rest your shins on the chair seat, but I found the completely raised legs more effective.

The effect lasts only while you are in this position, and, obviously, you can’t do this while walking around, but doing this in the hotel room can give you increased relief even if you are using other remedies, plus it will give your heart a much-needed rest. It would have helped me tremendously on my first trip since the symptoms kept me awake all night.

Thanks again to all the wonderful people who responded to my request for help. I hope this information will be useful to others. Should any of you need more information, feel free to contact me by e-mail c/o ITN.


Fresno, CA