When you go to the ocean the altitude level is equal to zero (0). When you travel up a mountain the altitude level increases and the air pressure decreases. At places like the Grand Canyon the altitude goes up to over 6,000 feet elevation, and in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado it can peak to over 14,000 feet elevation. As the elevation increases, the altitude is higher and the air pressure is lower. The lower the air pressure, the lower the number of oxygen molecules available to breathe. This is also known as thin air.
For people with Sickle Cell Disease, less oxygen means SICKNESS.
My altitude sickness symptoms begin around 3,000 feet. It starts with a headache, feeling tired, and dizziness. If I don’t get out of the mountains, then all of these symptoms get worse. At 4,000 – 5,000 feet, I begin to get confused and agitated. I have shortness of breath, my spleen, hands and feet begin to swell, and my head aches with no relief. At 6,000 feet, I descend into needing hospitalization. I throw-up, more headaches, dizziness, lips and palms turn white, and my body slowly collapses into a full Sickle Cell crisis.
How do I know so much? I found out about altitude sickness by accident. After taking a few vacations to the Grand Canyon and Utah I experienced altitude sickness first hand, the hard way. I travelled to these high places, got sick, and learned my lesson. I discovered that I can not go higher than 4,400 feet elevation EVER (without an oxygen tank). In winter, because oxygen is thinner by nature, I can not go above 3,000 feet elevation.
People with Sickle Cell disease have physical limitations, as well as geographic limitations. I know that I can’t visit the Swiss Alps, unless I have an oxygen tank strapped to my back and a mask flowing cool, clean oxygen into my lungs. That's ok with me. I am informed about my limitations and I can accept them. Information is power.
Now take a minute to inhale, now exhale. Enjoy each and every breath you have because it's very precious.