Updated: Mar 6
All About Altitude Sickness
Travelling at high altitude can be an incredible experience. Some of the most breathtaking views come from high up, along with some of the most exciting and exhilarating experiences. If you are looking for a challenge and a more physical break away from the office, it is possible you are considering scaling a mountain.
What is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness (or Acute Mountain Sickness) is when the body fails, or is not given enough time, to acclimatise to a high altitude. It is caused by sudden exposure to low levels of oxygen. People often react differently, but these are the common symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of Appetite
- Difficulty Sleeping
There are three categories of altitude:
High altitude - considered to be between 2,400 to 3,658 meters above sea level
Very high altitude - between 3,658 to 5500 meters.
Extreme altitude - 5,500 to 8,848 meters
Surprisingly, your physical fitness does not seem to have any relevance to whether you are likely to suffer from altitude sickness. Your age, sex, height and weight have little to no impact in your bodies ability to adjust. Although most people are okay up to 2,500 meters, others may start to experience the effects as low as 2000 meters.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
Prevention is always better than cure, so here are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting altitude sickness:
- It is recommended to not fly directly into a high altitude area.
- Take a couple/few days to acclimatise before going higher
- Avoid increasing height by more than 300-500 meters a day
- Rest every 600-900 meters
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid alcohol
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid difficult exercise for the first 24hrs
- Eat high calorie, light nutrient rich foods
If you are suffering from symptoms of altitude sickness the following symptom relief is available:
- Acetazolamide. You can not buy this drug over the counter in the UK as it is not licensed for the treatment of altitude sickness. However, It is available from most travel clinics and your GP may agree to prescribe some before you travel. Alternatively, try a pharmacy abroad.
- Promethazine. I love this drug. Brilliant for nausea, travel sickness, altitude sickness and has the fantastic side effect of giving you the best nights sleep ever. Don’t take before you drive.
- Ibuprofen and Paracetamol will help with headaches
If suffering from altitude sickness, avoid going any higher and rest where you are. If, after 24 hours, you are not feeling any better, go down by at least 500meters.
It can be dangerous to ignore the symptoms of altitude sickness. Typically this often occurs when travelling in a group, and one member does not want to slow up their companions. But it is essential to inform your group immediately, as not only can you become seriously unwell, your judgement may also become impaired which may endanger both you and your group.
There are two serious complications of ignoring altitude sickness, these are;
HACE - High Altitude Cerebral Oedema
This is when swelling of the brain occurs due to a lack of oxygen. Symptoms are;
- Lack of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
Perhaps more worryingly, people suffering from HACE are often unable to recognise that they are ill. Often occurring rapidly after an increase in altitude and it can be fatal without rapid medical care.
HAPE - High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema
This is a build up of fluid within the lungs, often with the following symptoms;
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath, even at rest
- Blue tongue to the lips or skin
- A continuous cough, possibly with tinges of blood in the sputum
- Tiredness and weakness
Often with a slower onset than HACE, symptoms can appear after a few days at high altitude and can also be fatal without immediate treatment.
Some experienced climbers will carry emergency medications for the treatment of HACE and HAPE, with dexamethasone steroids being given or nifedipine respectively.
You don’t have to be scaling a mountain to experience altitude sickness. Perhaps you are considering visiting the seven wonders of the world? Machu Picchu in Peru is 2,400 meters from sea level. There are also lots of other cities that are well worth a visit, La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia is at 3,640 meters and Shigatse in Tibet is situated at 4,320m. Whatever you reasons for travelling at high altitude, take care, be prepared and follow my advice above. Don't forget your First Aid Kit and for further packing advice when heading out the mountains, read my post here.
The Owner of Dulux Paints died today, he froze to death atop a mountain
The Police report states he could of done with another coat.
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