Imagine driving for hours to reach your destination in the mountain valley. Throughout the way, you would be surrounded by a cloud of excitement to hike through mountains and observe nature from the highest possible point. After all the hassle, when you finally reach your destination, you might feel dizzy and tired. You might feel tired and want to take a short nap but will end up just tossing and turning around in bed. Wonder why this is happening? Well, you might be facing altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness.
Fortunately, we can treat it. But before we get to the cure, let us figure out what it is and why it happens.
What is Altitude Sickness?
At high altitudes typically 8000 feet above sea level, the oxygen concentration is low, and the barometric pressure around you drops. Your body is not familiar with breathing in such a condition. Hence it makes a few adjustments to adapt to high altitudes. During this, you will experience fast breathing leading to shortness of breath, frequent urination, headaches, and other symptoms due to low oxygen levels in the blood. This condition is called acute mountain sickness and has three types. The mildest one is, referred to as Acute Mountain sickness, and its symptoms include muscle aches, hangover, dizziness, etc.
Here are some common symptoms experienced during altitude sickness that you should be aware of
- Constant headache, unresponsive to painkillers
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Loss of appetite
- Problems with sleep
If you suffer any symptoms, resort to the following tips and seek medical aid if possible. In some cases, they can be life-threatening.
How to Deal with Altitude Sickness: Prevention & Treatment
Altitude sickness can be a pain that can completely spoil your holiday plans. Here are few suggestions for dealing with it:
1) Go up Slowly
It takes two to three days for your body to adjust to higher altitudes. It is better to make stops after every few kilometers to give your body some time to make adjustments. If you are hiking, climb up slowly to avoid running out of breath.
2) Consume Calories
While hiking, your body needs a lot of energy as it has so many calories and burns. Consuming carbs at this point can be helpful as they require less oxygen for digestion. Pack some snacks for your way and include whole grains. Try to stick to small meals as the digestive system can be a little stressed.
3) Avoid Tobacco or Alcohol
Drinking alcohol or smoking can worsen altitude sickness. Even taking sleeping pills at high altitudes can be dangerous. Doctors recommend not to consume caffeinated drinks. For instance, tea or coffee a day before your hiking plans. Alcohol and caffeine dehydrate your body and slows the adoption process.
4) Double Your Water Intake
At high altitudes, sun rays are direct, and humidity is low. Due to this dry weather, drink as much water as you can to stay hydrated and active on your trip. Dehydration can also cause trouble.
5) Kids Should Stay Home
Baby’s circulatory systems are still growing and cannot bear low oxygen levels. Babies of six months should be avoided on such journeys.
6) Give Your Body Time To Prepare
Adjusting to higher altitudes takes two to three days so, always plan your trip. Add stops in between. It will allow your body to prepare itself for higher elevation. For every 3000 feet, you go up rest for at least a day before going ahead.
7) History Of Chronic Disease? Consult Your Doctor
If in the past you have suffered from lung or heart disease or have experienced altitude sickness. Before leaving, talk to your doctor and discuss any concerns with your physician. Also, look for medical centers near your vacation spot in case of an emergency.
Who is at a Greater Risk of Getting Altitude Sickness?
Every person is at risk of getting sick at a high altitude, no matter how young or fit they are swimmers or athletes. However, some people are more susceptible to AMS than others. To see if you’re one of them, ask yourself the following questions:
Where do you live?
People who live near the sea or at lower elevations are more likely to feel the effects of high elevation. If you have been living in an area with high barometric pressure, your bodies have already adjusted to low oxygen levels. Hence hiking or change in elevation will not affect them as much.
How old are you?
The younger the age, there are more chances of you for getting sick. But older people experience more severe symptoms as they usually have a history of chronic problems. Older people are too weak to adapt to the change and, babies have an underdeveloped circulation system which makes them at high risk of facing shortness of breath, etc.
How long it took to reach higher altitudes?
If you fly by plane, you can arrive at your mountain destination quickly. During these flight hours, there are abrupt changes in the air pressure and little time for your body to adjust to these changes. Hence, you are more likely to feel dizzy and other symptoms if you’re traveling time was short compared to driving which would gradually help your body adjust.
If you are new to climbing, take extra care.
How To Avoid Altitude Sickness?
If you experience headaches and one other acute sickness symptom while traveling, it is safe to consult a doctor. It is easier to treat while symptoms are mild. The immediate thing to do is come down at a lower elevation that is lower than 4000 feet. The best prevention technique is to travel slowly.
Acute mountain sickness is not a very serious issue. But if symptoms are neglected, your condition can worsen. AMS can turn into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). In such a scenario fluid, build up in the lungs that cause serious issues. It can also turn into High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is the worst case of altitude sickness causing fluids in the brain. However, do not let altitude sickness ruin your vacation plans. Take the necessary precautions to prevent any inconvenience.
Here are some tips if you’re considering a trip to the mountains.