Altitude Sickness – Causes, symptoms and treatment

Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness

Before going for a trek, our minds usually look for information about the place we want to explore and an itinerary to enable engagement, interest and trust; Right?

 As a responsible community; Togedr is equally sensitive about your health and well being. And in the times of corona; your health and safety have become our prime focus.

Once we become aware of the situation; half of our work is done and rest can be achieved by taking some basic precautions. While going for treks with Togedr; we want to ensure that you carry fair enough knowledge about the basics of health conditions that revolve around trekking. 

We must have heard the term Altitude Sickness till now. It is a blanket term used for a variety of situations and majorly encompass three kinds of altitude sickness. 

  • Acute Mountain Sickness(AMS)

  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

 The most common and mild form is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The general symptoms include dizziness, headache, muscle aches, nausea, loss of appetite, swelling in fingers, vomiting. In the cases of AMS, one starts to feel the symptoms usually within 12 to 24 hours of reaching higher elevation, and as our bodies adapt to the change in altitude we start to feel better.  But if one develops a severe case (HAPE; HACE) of altitude sickness, the symptoms will intensify. HAPE and HACE are comparatively severe and should be taken seriously. One must seek medical help immediately; any ignorance can become life-threatening.  

Altitude sickness

Headache is the first sign of altitude sickness.

 In High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), there is fluid accumulation in our lungs. The most common detector in the cases of HAPE is a consistent breathlessness. 

Immediate treatment for HAPE includes accumulative dosages of 

  •  Nifedipine (20 mg every 8 hours) or Sildenafil (50 mg every 8 hours)
  •  Acetazolamide ( 125 mg every 12 hours) 
  •  Dexamethasone ( 4-6 mg every 6 hours)
Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness

While in case of High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE); the fluid accumulates in the brain, thus making it the most severe form of altitude sickness. In cases of HACE; the red flag is mental confusion; lack of coordination.

Immediate treatment for HAPE is:

  •  Dexamethasone (First dose- 8mg; followed by 4mg dose every 6 hours).
Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness

 In both the cases, one should immediately start to descend till he reaches tree level; where there is fair enough oxygen supply because these drugs are not treatments but only time buyers to enable the body to reach safer altitude levels having enough oxygen supply.  

 The science behind all these conditions in simplest of terms is that whenever we travel from lower altitudes towards the higher ones; there is a change in atmospheric pressure, which impacts our normal flow of oxygen to various body parts. So, our body responds to this sudden shift in altitude and climate. This is a natural response and even the fittest people can experience mild bodily discomforts. Age and fitness are general misconceptions. 

Usually, people start experiencing these discomforts once they escalate above 2500 metres but some may start feeling low even at 1800 metres. The possibilities of HAPE and HACE can develop at altitudes as low as 5000 metres.  

The good news is that by taking a few measures and precautionary steps; we can enable our bodies to adapt fast to this rapid change in climate; acclimatize ourselves.

 General precautions and measures are:

 1. First and foremost is a slow climb, taking breathers in between. For every 3000 feet you climb; rest at least a day at that height.

 2. ‘Climb High and sleep low’ i.e. come back to lower altitudes to sleep.

 2. Stay hydrated; 3-4 litres of water every day.

 3. Try to include 70 percent of carbohydrates in your meals.

 4. Avoid alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills.

 5. Always carry LSDs (Life Saving Drugs) such as Diamox, Dexamethasone, Nifedipine and Ibuprofen too.










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