The amount of oxygen in the air decreases with altitude. As you reach higher, air pressure is lower and there will be less oxygen in every breath you take. As we move higher, our body tries to adapt by breathing faster and deeper. If we move higher altitudes quickly, we may suffer from oxygen deprivation causing disorder in health which is called “Altitude sickness”. Altitude sickness is also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS). If you are going for a trek to high altitude, then it’s better for you and your team to know about altitude sickness and altitude acclimatization.
We would like to inform trekkers to never underestimate altitude sickness because it may take a serious form if you ignore it and don’t listen to your body. You may not lose your life but certainly spoil your trekking experience with altitude sickness. Altitude sickness does not care about age, sex or fitness level and can affect anyone. If you have experienced it previously, then you are likely to experience it again under similar conditions. If you are well aware of altitude sickness, its prevention and treatment; you can not only adjust yourself well at high altitude but also help others under such condition.
Symptoms of Altitude sickness
It’s better to know about symptoms of altitude sickness so that you can treat it quickly. Symptoms probably start after the day you have been at high altitude. The mild symptoms include:
- Headache which gets worse during night and when you wake up. You feel like having hangover.
- Not feeling like eating, feeling weak and tired
- Not sleeping well, feeling dizzy
Symptoms may be severe too. Altitude sickness can affect your lungs and brain. In such case, you may hear a sound like paper bag being crumpled when you breathe. You become confused, you won’t be able to walk straight and you may faint. Your lips and fingernails seem blue or gray. If so, then the condition is severe and it may be fatal if not treated quickly.
Treatment of Altitude sickness
You should not panic when the symptoms of altitude sickness start when you are at high altitude because mild symptoms generally occur to people and it can be treated at high altitude too by acclimatizing your body to that altitude i.e. letting your body get used to it. You may use oxygen or a specially designed pressure chamber to treat altitude sickness. You should not go to a higher altitude until your symptoms disappear. Take rest at that altitude, drink enough water but avoid alcohol. Medicines can be taken as prescribed by doctor.
If the symptoms do not go away, but instead become severe; then you should go to lower altitude but not alone. Never let anyone with altitude sickness go down the way alone.
Prevention of altitude sickness
It is rightly said that prevention is better than cure. Becoming well aware of altitude sickness and knowing the ways of altitude acclimatization can prevent you from altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can be prevented too. If you are heading for high altitude, you should take time and spend a night at a medium altitude. Do not fly into high altitude directly from low altitude. Sleep always at an altitude that is lower than the altitude that you were at the day. You should practice “Climb high, sleep low”. Eat enough water and lot of carbohydrates. You can take some medicine prescribed by doctor before going to high altitude.
Altitude sickness is often mistaken for the flu, a hangover or dehydration. As per rule, when you are at high altitude, you should consider your symptoms as of altitude sickness unless you can prove they are not. Knowing about altitude sickness and its symptoms, treatment and prevention can make your trekking experience joyful without any health hazard. If not for you, you can help others in your group.