Young hiker backpacker woman using trekking poles enjoying the Nuptse 7861m mountain during high altitude Acclimatization walk. Everest Base Camp trekking route, Nepal.

How to prevent and treat altitude sickness

Views from the heights of the mountainous regions can be magical and awe-inspiring, but not if you’re bent over, bloated and bloated, nauseous, and deal with a headache. Often referred to as acute altitude sickness, altitude sickness can occur at altitudes up to 5,000 feet, and gets more severe as you approach an altitude of 10,000 feet. It can take many forms, too: only some are serious, but all of them can get in the way of your adventures.

If you’re headed, here’s how to prepare for and treat symptoms, and what to look for to ensure you stay happy and healthy when you’re close to heaven.

What causes altitude sickness?

Contrary to popular belief, altitude sickness is not caused by a lack of oxygen the higher its levels are.

“You’re still breathing in 21 percent oxygen, it’s more diffuse,” explains Graham Prather, director of education at the National Outdoor Driving School (NOLS) and responsible for wildlife medicine courses.

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It is not a matter of composition, but rather of focus. At higher altitudes, there is less atmospheric pressure, which reduces the number of oxygen molecules in a given volume of air compared to the same volume at lower altitudes. For example, at 10,000 feet, you only get 69 percent of the oxygen you get at sea level.

Essentially, the higher you go up, the less efficient your breathing becomes, resulting in less and less oxygen every time you inhale. In response, your body is trying to get the oxygen it needs, so you begin to breathe more quickly. But despite this effort, there is still less oxygen in the blood and muscles, which is why physical activities feel more difficult at heights. This condition is called hypoxia, and it’s the cause of altitude sickness symptoms.

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is not fun and certainly not easy to ignore. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, possibly vomiting, and possibly even loss of appetite. Sometimes it may also be accompanied by a very dangerous combination of fatigue and insomnia.

“It felt like a really bad hangover,” says Brother of the first time he had altitude sickness.

It is a feeling that usually occurs within a day or two of reaching a destination at an altitude, but you may still feel mild symptoms such as dizziness before that, especially when bending over and standing up quickly, or climbing stairs.

Additionally, higher altitudes make you more susceptible to dehydration, which can worsen symptoms of altitude sickness. This is partly because every time you exhale it expels moisture, so An increase in the rate of breathing causes your body to lose more water ususally. And the dry conditions that come with high altitudes don’t help: a lack of moisture makes it Moisture evaporates quicklyWhich can fool you into thinking you’re not sweating as much as you do and don’t need to rehydrate. Drinking plenty of water is crucial, especially in the first few days of acclimatization.

“We can’t get rid of altitude sickness,” Brother offers, “but we can’t at least get dehydrated on top of that.”

Most of the time, these symptoms are not life-threatening and only require acclimation for relief. But especially at altitudes above 10,000 feet, symptoms can worsen and lead to more serious health conditions: high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).

HACE usually comes with loss of balance, bouts of confusion, and possibly severe headaches. HAPE, on the other hand, presents with decreased stamina, shortness of breath (even at rest), and a persistent cough that begins as dry and turns wet, indicating the presence of fluid in the lungs. HAPE is more common than HACE, but both can be fatal, which is why it’s important to head for altitude as soon as you start experiencing symptoms.

Who is at risk of altitude sickness?

Unfortunately, science has not identified any specific signs of who may or may not have altitude sickness. The only indication seems to be that if you’ve had symptoms before, it may happen again. But at the same time, if you haven’t had any symptoms before, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will never have them.

Not even athletes or people with an excellent physique have immunity. In fact, Brother says, these tend to be the people most worried about when driving trips, as non-athletes tend to listen to their bodies and pay attention to symptoms, while athletes may try to cope with pain or discomfort.

How to prevent altitude sickness

There are three main factors that affect not only your risk of altitude sickness, but the amount of hypoxic stress you experience — altitude, how fast you climb, and your level of exertion. Fortunately, you can prepare for each one of them.

Start by planning ahead and allowing enough time to acclimatise. Don’t expect to land in Quito, Ecuador (9,350 feet above sea level), the Himalayas (29,032 feet), or even Denver (5,279 feet) and immediately blast off to a moderate summit. Your body needs between 24 and 48 hours to adapt to new heights, but the time it takes to fully acclimatize may vary. The The National School for Foreign Leadership Curriculum It specifies that “If you travel 10,000 feet or more quickly, take two to three days off with light exercise.” If you take time to acclimatise, your symptoms will likely not be as strong.

As soon as you give your body time to get used to the new conditions, do not rush to sum up anything –The faster you climb, the more likely you are to develop symptoms. If you have a multi-day hike to higher elevations ahead, Brother recommends spreading out the trip over several more days, so that you and your team can ascend in stages once you reach more than 10,000 feet, as you sleep each night at the elevations. No more than 1,500 feet higher than the night before. Throw on frequent rest days, too.

If you can, consider spending the night at lower altitudes, because sleeping at higher altitudes is harder on your body. To do this, you can go on climbing trips during the day, and then go down to base camp at night.

Before, during, or even after a hike, avoid alcohol (especially when you first arrive and your body has not yet acclimated) and sedatives to help you sleep, as they can make symptoms worse. Prather explains that these two substances lower your motivation to breathe by slowing your breathing and Make every breath shallower than usualwhich is the opposite of what you need at high altitude.

“You want your respiratory impulse to be responsive to the atmosphere in which you live,” he says.

How to treat altitude sickness

Altitude sickness can be sneaky, so even if you do your best to prevent, you may still have symptoms. When it comes to feeling better, light exercise can help, so take an easy walk to raise your breathing. Since nausea is one of the most common symptoms, you probably won’t feel like eating, but you should also take care to maintain adequate nutrition to stay healthy.

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help reduce headache severity, but avoid anything stronger, like opioids, which have an effect similar to alcohol and sedatives, Prather says.

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If you expect to have altitude sickness, ask your doctor about acetazolamide. This medication can relieve symptoms of altitude sickness by speeding up your breathing engine. work through Changing the pH of the blood to become more acidicThis makes your body think there is too much carbon dioxide. As a result, your system makes your breathing faster and deeper in an effort to get rid of carbon dioxide, which leads to an increased concentration of oxygen.

Finally, if altitude sickness persists or gets worse despite better prevention and treatment efforts, take Brother’s words as your new mantra: “Don’t go up until symptoms go down.” If there is no improvement, it is time to head to a lower altitude. Don’t worry – you can always try again next time.


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