Q: I will be visiting high-elevation vineyards in Argentina. Will alcohol affect me differently at high altitude?—Jason, New York
A: Most of the world’s vineyards sit well below concerning altitudes, but reduced oxygen levels and drier air at elevations as low as 6,000 feet can result in mild altitude sickness. Some vineyards in Argentina are planted higher than 10,000 feet, so there is cause for caution.
Alcohol will not impact your body any differently at high altitude than it would at sea level, but at high altitudes, someone whose body has not had time to acclimate to the reduced oxygen and humidity levels is less ably equipped to effectively process alcohol.
"One of the responses of the body when you are going from a low altitude to a high altitude is dehydration," says Dr. Dan Bachmann, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center, "and if you add alcohol on top of that, which also causes your body to lose fluid, you'll be even more dehydrated."
Dehydration and reduced blood oxygen saturation levels can lead to altitude sickness, with early symptoms including headache and nausea; at very high altitudes (above 8,000 feet), the risks include life-threatening symptoms such as cerebral and pulmonary edema.
Dr. Bachmann, who is also a wilderness medicine instructor, understands that trips to high-elevation regions are frequently recreational and include alcohol consumption. “It takes 72 to 96 hours for your body to adjust to altitude change, so for the first few days it is advisable to be a bit cautious and make sure you're hydrating with non-alcoholic beverages," he says. Consult a physician about your personal risk factors before consuming wine at high altitudes.—Shawn Zylberberg