Information about high altitude sickness:
What is altitude sicknessAltitude sickness (also known as acute mountain sickness – AMS) a problem that can occur when you travel to a high altitude, usually over 8,000 feet / 2500 meters above sea level. It is also called Mountain Sickness.
Especially serious types of altitude sickness are:
• high-altitude pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
• high-altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain).
How does it occur?The air at high altitudes contains less oxygen than at sea level. Your body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs. Over several days at high altitude, your body adjusts to the lower amount of oxygen in the air.
Many people fly from sea level to mountain altitudes of 6,000 to 10,000 feet and start vigorous physical activity right away. Not giving the body time to adjust to the higher elevation can cause altitude sickness.
Certain health factors increase the risk of altitude sickness. These include:
• heart disease
• chronic lung problems such as asthma or emphysema
• drinking too much alcohol.
Many people who are physically fit assume they won’t get altitude sickness because they are in good shape. However, some people tend to get altitude sickness regardless of their condition.
Pulmonary or cerebral altitude edema may start out as a milder form of altitude sickness. It may then worsen into one of these more serious problems. But sometimes the edema occurs without the usual symptoms of mountain sickness.
What are the symptoms?You may notice symptoms of altitude sickness about six to 24 hours after you have arrived at an area of high altitude, although this can vary among different people.
If you have altitude sickness, you may:
• have a headache
• feel tired
• feel sick or vomit
• lose your appetite
• have an increased heart rate
• feel dizzy
• have difficulty sleeping
• have irregular breathing when sleeping
Symptoms usually start to ease within about two days as your body gets used to the high altitude (acclimatises), particularly if you don’t go any higher. If your symptoms get worse, you should
How is it diagnosed?Your health care provider will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. If you do not have one of the more serious types of altitude sickness, the results of your exam will probably be normal. If you have fluid in your lungs, your health care provider will hear the sounds it makes. If you have brain swelling, your provider will probably see that you are having problems with your balance, vision, or ability to think clearly.
How is it treated?Self-help
If you have mild altitude sickness, you shouldn’t ascend any higher. You should:
• drink plenty of water
• take painkillers for your headache
• take antisickness medicines, such as cinnarizine (eg Stugeron) or promethazine (eg Avomine), which can be used to ease the feelings of nausea and dizziness – you can buy these from a chemist without a doctor’s prescription
Symptoms usually go away within one to two days.
If your symptoms become more severe, oxygen is the best treatment. You can easily get more oxygen by descending 500 to 1,000m. You can also get extra oxygen from oxygen tanks or hyperbaric treatment.
There are a number of medicines for severe altitude sickness. These include the medicines dexamethasone and nifedipine. Only people who are very experienced in treating altitude sickness should give these medicines. For more advice about these medicines, ask your GP or a travel advice centre.
How can I prevent altitude sickness?There are a number of steps you can take to prevent altitude sickness. Wherever possible:
• acclimatise yourself to the high altitudes by slowly ascending the height over several days if possible – don’t sleep at altitudes greater than 300m of the previous night
• drink lots of water
• eat a high-carbohydrate diet such as pasta
• don’t do any strenuous exercise or activity for the first few days after arrival at high altitude and have rest days planned if you are ascending further
Acetazolamide (Diamox) has been used increasingly as a preventive medicine to decrease the symptoms of altitude sickness. You should only take this medicine after consulting a doctor. It’s not a substitute for common sense and you should descend immediately if your symptoms of altitude sickness get worse.
Alternatively, you may be able to take dexamethasone. This medicine is effective for both prevention and treatment of altitude sickness and can prevent HAPE if you have suffered from severe altitude sickness before.
If you have had HAPE before, you may be able to take preventive drugs. Both nifedipine and tadalafil can help to prevent HAPE but aren’t suitable for preventing altitude sickness.
Your health care provider may prescribe medicines to help prevent altitude sickness. Take the medicine before you get to a high altitude. Continue to take it while you are at high altitude. Gamow Bag
This clever invention has revolutionised field treatment of altitude sickness. The bag is composed of a sealed chamber with a pump. The casualty is placed inside the bag and it is inflated by pumping it full of air effectively increasing the concentration of oxygen and therefore simulating a descent to lower altitude.
In as little as 10 minutes the bag can create an “atmosphere” that corresponds to that at 900 to 1,500 metres (3,000 to 5,000 feet) lower. After two hours in the bag, the person’s body chemistry will have “reset” to the lower altitude. This acclimatisation lasts for up to 12 hours outside of the bag which should be enough time to get them down to a lower altitude and allow for further acclimatisation.
The bag and pump together weigh about 6.5 kilos (15 pounds) and are now carried on most major high altitude trekking and expeditions.
Our well experienced guides are aware of altitude sickness, its symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, medication and how to use Gamow Bag in need.