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Altitude sickness can occur when you travel to a high altitude too quickly. It is a group of symptoms that can strike if you walk or climb to a higher elevation, or altitude, too quickly. Breathing becomes difficult because you aren’t able to take in as much oxygen. Altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness. It can become a medical emergency if ignored.  Just because you haven’t had it before doesn’t mean you won’t develop it in another trip.

 

Symptoms

Headache: You might have minor headaches while travelling at a higher altitude. In such case, take a break for a while until it goes off or take ibuprofen and paracetamol for headaches. Then continue your journey. If your headache still hasn’t healed after the rest, it certainly is a symptom. Don’t attempt to climb again until your headache has completely disappeared.

Tiredness: It is normal to feel tired after walking a long day especially when you’re walking uphill or faster than your usual speed. If the tiredness recovers faster, after resting for a while, continue with your trekking. But if it does not, do not go any higher. Only normal tiredness can be recovered after a few hours of rest but not altitude sickness. Do not take this lightly. Always update your guide with your current health status. If the difficulty in climbing becomes serious, avoid going higher.

Pulse: 60 pulses in a minute is an average condition. It is normal for the pulses to go up while walking in an upward direction in faster than your usual speed. Calmly sit down and take rest for a while until it gets back to a normal speed, if your pulses goes a bit higher than usual. Do not panic. If it grows higher to around 100, consider it as a symptom and avoid climbing further.

Coughing: Many people who travel to high altitude complain of cough. It is not usual for one to cough at such a dry and cold temperature. It’s consequence, aside from interfering with climbing and sleeping can be severe. Your ribs might also get fractured. Therefore, take a break and check the improvement after rest. If the condition gets back to normal, then only continue with your walk.

Intense breathing: Breathing usually gets intense when we trek to a higher altitude. You’re bound to certain huffing and puffing because the oxygen is comparatively low than the usual place. In such case, take rest for a while. If your breathing does not get any better with rest, it can be a symptom. Stop climbing further.

Loss of Appetite:  Your body requires a lot of energy to function properly. Therefore you should drink a lot of fluids and eat adequate amount of nutritious foods. The more you eat and drink, the more better it is. Loss of appetite and lack of energy can cause vomiting which can be dangerous. Most of your circulatory system is supplying your large muscles and less is left for digestion. So, eat a lot or carry at least something small like jelly beans or dry nuts.

Disorientation: This is the most dangerous symptom of altitude sickness. If you’re walking as a drunk you should be more careful. It might adversely affect your brain. Thus, you should be more careful. Many people have misconception about alcohol that it is the easiest and cheapest way to warm up a body. But it actually decreases the temperature of the body. It directly affects the nervous system and due to this major organ fails resulting in clinical death or brain death. So, take rest for a while until you feel normal. If you still feel dizzy or disoriented you should stop going any further.

The pressure of the air that surrounds you is called barometric pressure. When you go to higher altitudes, this pressure drops and there is less oxygen available.

 

Precautions

Diamox 250 mg: This medicine will help you to treat seizures and stay away form altitude sickness. Consult with your doctor for recommendation dose.

Go slow: Do not go straight in upward direction at faster speed than usual. Take it slow and easy and walk with your normal pace. Avoid walking faster when you’re at an altitude of 3,000m or above and start walking up hill.

Limited gain in altitude: Allow a gradual gain in altitude with the trekkers having extra days to allow time for acclimatization. Gain height slowly to reap the benefits of a gradual gain in fitness and acclimatization. Make sure that the gain of altitude between the place you wake up and the one you sleep at the end of the day does not exceed 300m or 1,000 ft.

Acclimate: Walk slow on approach days, even if you can walk faster. That allows your body the time required to adjust to the new extreme environment. Get proper sleep. Its the most important thing. Its when your body recovers and prepares for the next day/ altitude. If there is anything that is disturbing your sleep, resolve that or bring that to immediate notice to your team mates and team leader. Spend two nights resting after a gain of every 1,000 meters each.

Drink a lot: bring a well hydrated body to the mountains. Start hydrating your body well before leaving your home, may be 2 – 3 days before you leave. A fit person always stays hydrated. Therefore drink a lot of fluids to keep your body hydrated in the dry places upwards i.e. at least 4 liters per day.

No alcohol: Do not consume high concentrated alcohol drinks 2-3 days before heading to the mountains for they only help to hide the symptoms and cause dizziness.  Also while on treks, refrain from drinking hard drinks.

Pack light: Carry only the essentials you require while climbing. Pack light. Do not carry excessive or heavy backpacks. You might get into trouble. Minimize the weight of your back pack to upto 8 kg.

Use your conscience: Check your itinerary and do not over exhaust. Trekking in mountains should not be judged by time, distance, etc. Your age , shape and size of the body has absolutely no role to play. Do not let others pressurize you. If you think you have altitude sickness, do not go higher. It’s not about achieving something. It’s to enjoy your time and be closer to the nature.

Note: In case of severe headache, pulse or disorientation inform your trekking guide and take help of the helicopter rescue immediately. Do not take your altitude sickness lightly or ignore the symptoms. Prevention is always better than cure. Therefore, ask for a rescue service in case of emergency.