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Minor Health Problems in Bolivia

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness (soroche) is the ailment you’re most likely to experience in the Andes, particularly in La Paz, Potosí, Sucre and Copacabana. The symptoms of altitude sickness are general malaise and weakness, with some nausea thrown in. Altitude sickness is most likely experienced within 24 hours of ascending to a higher altitude: if you go for a day or so without feeling weak and sick, you probably won’t get it; altitude sickness rarely lasts for more than a day or so. If you think you have altitude sickness, get some bed rest and take some aspirin or other mild painkillers. Bolivians believe that the best thing for altitude sickness is a strong tea made from coca leaves (don’t worry, the tea is legal). It does, in fact, help: native Andeans have been chewing coca leaves for centuries to stave off the effects of altitude (be careful: coca tea may result in a positive drug test). There is no way to determine if you’re a high risk for altitude sickness. If you’re concerned that you’ll get it, there are some drugs, such as Diamox, which are helpful in preventing it.

Motion Sickness

Even the hardiest of travelers can be hit by motion sickness on buses in the Andes or boats on Lake Titicaca. Sit near the front of the bus or stay above deck on the boat and focus on the horizon. If you are prone to motion sickness, eat light, non-greasy food before traveling and avoid drinking too much, particularly alcohol. Over-the-counter medications such as Dramamine can prevent motion sickness. If you suffer from severe motion sickness, you may want to get a patch or wristbands.

Sunburn / Heat Exhaustion

At high altitudes, the sun is incredibly strong. Apply sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 every few hours when you are outside. Also use sunscreen on the Altiplano to prevent sunburn and windburn. The reflection of the sun off the Salar de Uyuni can cause sunburn as well. If you get a severe sunburn, treat it with a cream and stay out of the sun for a while. To avoid overheating, wear a hat and sunglasses and drink lots of water. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are profuse sweating, weakness, exhaustion, muscle cramps, rapid pulse and vomiting. If you experience heatstroke, go to a cool, shaded area until your body temperature normalizes and drink lots of water. If the symptoms continue, consult a doctor.

Traveler's Diarrhea

If you’re careless about what and where you eat, chances are good that you’ll come down with a simple case of the runs. Typically, cases run their course in a few days. If you don’t have to travel, the best thing to do is simply to let the illness run its course: just stay close to home and never too far from a toilet and you’ll soon be as good as new. Drink plenty of fluids, especially rehydrating ones such as Gatorade. If you have to travel, you’ll want to bring along some medicine. Before coming to Bolivia it's a good idea to pick up an antibiotic, such as Quinolone, or an antidiarrheal drug like Lomotil, Loperamide or Imodium. In the event of an onset of severe diarrhea or if symptoms persist or worsen, seek medical attention.

Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Safety, Religion in Bolivia, Safety, Credit Cards in Bolivia, Northwest Bolivia: Highlights, Wiring Money in Bolivia, Regions, Amazon Basin History, Lodging and Northwest Bolivia: Safety.

17 Feb 2010

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