Is it hard to breathe in Colorado? 12 tips to prevent Denver & Colorado Springs altitude sickness

Certain things make it hard to breathe, like COPD. However, there are other things that can also make it harder to breathe. 

Have you ever been up in the mountains and felt that you were getting out of breath in no time?

Moving to or visiting Colorado can put your stamina to the test if you’re not ready for it, and there’s a clear reason.

Higher altitudes can make you feel both sick and out of breath. In this article, we’ll examine why it’s harder to breathe in Colorado. We’ll also go over some tips on how to deal with altitude sickness in Denver, Colorado Springs, & Pikes Peak. 

Colorado Springs

Is it hard to breathe in Colorado?

As you get into higher altitudes, the oxygen level in the air falls drastically. The air pressure is not what you’re used to dealing with, which is basically what it comes down to. 

The short answer is that it is harder to breathe in Colorado than in a lot of other places. Depending on where you go, you may be at risk of potentially life-threatening oxygen conditions. Make sure to read all the way through so you’ll stay safe!

If you feel winded or sick, there’s a chance it’s because you’re much higher up than usual. 

The answer to the question is that a lot of people will find it hard to breathe in Colorado. Air pressure decreases near-linearly as you’re rising. On top of that, the altitude of Colorado ranges from 3,300 to 14,440 feet above sea level.

Therefore, the higher you are, the harder it is to breathe. It means there are certain places in the state where it’s much harder to breathe. 

Your ability to breathe at different levels of elevation will also depend on your health condition. 

A fit person will have much less trouble visiting Denver or Colorado compared to Mount Elbert or Mount Massive. 

Denver’s altitude is around 5,280 feet above sea level, with Boulder’s roughly the same. Mount Elbert’s elevation stands at 14,440 feet after there was a re-evaluation of mapped elevations. 

It also means that you will surely struggle at Mount Elbert if you’re already struggling in Denver. 

PlaceOxygen levelElevation
Sea level100%0 feet
Colorado Spring21% less than the sea level6,035 feet
Pikes Peak41% less than the sea level14,115 feet
Mt. Quandary42% less than the sea level14,265 feet
Mt. Everest67% less than the sea level29,032 feet

In comparison, here is the altitude of other mountain cities in the US.

CityElevation
Asheville2134 feet
Durango6522 feet
Bozeman4817
Ogden4300
Lake Aspen

At an altitude of 8,000m, you’ll have a barometric pressure of 300. At sea level, the same barometric pressure is between 760 and 1,000. 

Molecules spread out further the higher up you get, meaning there is 67% less oxygen at Mount Everest than at sea level. 

What elevation is Colorado Springs?

Colorado Springs’s elevation is roughly 6,000 feet above sea level. That means there’s 21% less oxygen than at sea level that’s being pushed into your lungs. 

What is the altitude of Denver?

With Denver’s altitude around 5,300 feet above sea level, it’s marginally easier to breathe there than at Colorado Springs. 

What is the altitude of Pikes Peak?

The altitude at Pikes Peak is 14,115 feet above sea level, which means it starts being a struggle for people. It’s especially the case for those that are out of shape. As a result of the altitude, there’s 41% less oxygen there. 

Each breath you take in contains less oxygen. With the molecules being so far spread out compared to what you’re used to, your body operates on less-than-ideal conditions. 

In comparison, many people need additional oxygen if they’re hoping to make it to the top of Everest. The density of the oxygen molecules gets so low past 30,000 feet that humans struggle to survive there. 

What is Altitude Sickness?

welcome sign to Colorado

Many people visiting Colorado fail to recognize that it can be hard to breathe in elevations that they’re not used to. Maybe you’re used to the luxurious air available by the sea level.

In addition, most people don’t go there, visiting only the capital. Colorado offers a constant supply of adventures, and some of them are at higher altitudes. 

The state offers various opportunities, like hiking, rafting, and skiing. Ice climbing is even an opportunity during certain times of the year. 

Readjusting to higher altitudes can be tough, though. Headaches and other mild signs of altitude sickness are common for those not used to the elevation. 

Altitude sickness is a serious concern, especially the higher up you move. 

Your lungs extract oxygen from the air as you’re breathing in. Your survival even depends on it. The oxygen enters the blood through the lungs, and it’s transported to the rest of the body. 

A beating heart ensures oxygen is transported around the blood and delivered where it’s needed. Oxygen-rich blood goes to your brain and body, fueling both of them. 

However, not all parts of the world have the same levels of oxygen. In fact, there were much higher oxygen levels during prehistoric times

Traveling quickly from lower altitudes to higher ones can cause sickness. Going to the mountains is the fastest way to experience it. It’s common for people to start feeling the symptoms around 8,000 feet, but it can happen earlier than that. 

Colorado Springs and Denver are not sufficiently high up to affect most people, but you could be the outlier. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t feel out of breath when going to these cities that are still higher up than many cities in other states. 

Types of mountain sickness

Denver skyline

The severity of the situation is split into three categories or names:

High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE)

Fluid gets into the brain, and it’s the most severe form of the disease. If it gets to that, you will need medical attention, as your life may be in danger. 

High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)

It’s a potentially life-threatening situation where fluid makes its way into the lungs. This fluid buildup can cause death and frequently does so.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS)

It’s a common condition but also the mildest form. Nausea, muscle aches, headache, and dizziness are common symptoms. It’s commonly described as feeling like a hangover. It’s uncomfortable, but it gets better.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

This mountain sickness can bring forth a range of symptoms, but some are typically more prevalent than others. Altitude sickness covers the range of symptoms you might experience as you work toward higher elevation at a rapid pace. 

The most common symptoms you’ll experience include the following:

Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Problems with sleep
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

They get especially obvious between 12 to 24 hours of reaching the altitude you’re at. After a day or two, you should start feeling better again. Your body will have gotten more used to where it is at. 

Moderate and more severe cases will not go away after 24 hours. The symptoms are more intense, and OTC medication does not fix the issues. Fatigue, shortness of breath, and other symptoms get worse. 

Tightening in your chest and loss of coordination are common symptoms to experience. Confusion and an inability to walk are indications that you have HAPE or HACE. You’re even at the risk of going into a coma. 

Where Are You at Risk of Altitude Sickness?

You’re mainly at risk once you go up higher than 8,000 feet. 

Who Gets Altitude Sickness?

Crested Butte

Anyone can develop altitude sickness. 

The pace at which you get to the higher elevation and how high up you go influences your symptoms’ seriousness. You won’t be as easily affected if you live at a higher altitude.

Younger people are more prone to getting it, as does being physically fit. Certain diseases increase your risk, like pregnancy or heart failure. Anyone with a recent heart attack or stroke is also at risk.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness in Colorado

Telluride

There are a couple of tips you should keep in mind to avoid getting sick. They include

  1. Properly resting. You’re in a much better state if you’re well-rested.
  2. Never go alone. When you struggle, they can call for the necessary help to come and provide assistance. 
  3. Staying hydrated is very important. You’ll get dehydrated quicker as the air gets thinner and it’s dryer. It doesn’t mean you should drink an excess of water, either. 
  4. Strenuous activity should be avoided on the first day you’re getting used to these new circumstances. 
  5. Avoid going above 7,000 feet to start with. You’ll want a day to see how you feel. There are many beautiful things to see in Denver and Colorado Springs before you venture higher. 
  6. Gingko Biloba helps you cope as you get higher up. Stock up on it before you head out, and you’ll thank us later. 
  7. Ascend gradually. Higher elevation is no joke. While you’re fine traveling up to Denver, the trouble really comes around 8,000 feet. You should ideally stay there for some time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels. You won’t want to travel higher than 9,000 feet in one day. Consider taking Ginkgo Biloba.

Pros

  • Ginkgo Biloba decreases acute mountain sickness.
  • Ginkgo Biloba is a natural product and can also help the brain.

Cons

  • However, it doesn’t fully avoid it.
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Ginkgo Biloba helps you cope higher up.
  1. Spend a day or two getting used to the new altitudes. 
  2. Increase your potassium intake. Beet juice is a great potassium source that can help you travel higher up. 
  3. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume. You won’t be able to drink as much as you’re used to in these higher altitudes, and it’s important to keep this in mind. 
  4. Consume more calories. Your body is already struggling as is. By giving it more calories, it’s getting the fuel it needs, and it can more easily get used to the altitude.
  5. Doctors can prescribe Diamox. If you’re very concerned, you can get your doctor to prescribe Diamox. However, avoiding over-exertion is a good idea regardless. You’re probably fine if you follow all the previous advice but skip the doctor.

Is living at a high altitude healthy?

Many scientists believe it’s healthy to live in higher-altitude environments. It’s believed to be associated with fewer:

  • Cancers
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular diseases

However, it’s hard to say whether it is caused by altitude. Some researchers seem to believe the lowered appetite could cause less wear on the body. 

Conclusion

Now that you’re prepared, have you found out which of these cities you’re going to after Colorado?

  • Ogden
  • Bozeman
  • Asheville