To know about methods of altitude sickness prevention come in handy if you plan to conquer a mountain. As pressure of air drops with increasing altitude, less oxygen becomes available. Our body needs time to adjust and might show symptopms of distress if we reach high altitude too quickly. This group of symptoms is called altitude sickness or “mountain sickness”.
Different kinds of Altitude Sickness
1. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the mildest form and is very common. The symptoms can feel like a hangover. This includes short breath, dizziness, headache, muscle aches, nausea, problems with sleep, loss of appetite.
2. High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be very dangerous and even life threatening.
3. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is the most severe form of altitude sickness and happens when fluid builds up in the brain. It’s life threatening and you need to seek medical attention right away.
Symptoms which might occur
Symptoms usually show within 12 to 24 hours of reaching a higher elevation. Usually they get better within a day or two as the body adjusts. In a more moderate case of altitude sickness the symptoms might feel more intense and not improve with over-the-counter medications. Instead of feeling better as time goes on, people start to feel worse. The mean thing is, anyone can develop altitude sickness. It doesn’t matter how fit, young, or healthy they are. In fact, being physically active at a high elevation makes you more likely to get it.
When we hiked Mt. Meru in Tanzania with a total elevation of 4,566 AMSL every single member of our group of ten got altitude sick. Most of us just got nauseous some very unfortunate ones got severe headache lasting for several days and vomiting. Even the guides showed symptoms, although only at the last leg of the hike leading to the summit.
The best way to prevent altitude sickness is through acclimatization. That means you let your body slowly get used to the changes in air pressure as you travel to higher elevations. A good method is the “Climb high and sleep low” rule: If you have to climb over 300 m in a day, make sure you come back down to a lower altitude to sleep.
Altitude Sickness Prevention
Drink 2-3 liters of water every day and make sure about 70% of your calories are coming from carbs. Don’t use tobacco, alcohol, or other medications, such as sleeping pills. However ibuprofen shown to be a good treatment against altitude sickness. Taking ibuprofen six hours before acent could effectively reduce the effects of altitude sickness according to a study by Standford Medicine. (Caution: Try at own risk! Consult your doctor in case of doubt.)
If you encounter nausea and loss of appetite on the last stage of the trip an energy bar or jelly could be a live saver. Those bars, as used by long distance athletes, are light, neutral in taste and at the same time providing the needed level of energy.
The outlook for improvement depends on how quickly you can move to a lower altitude and how serious the symptoms are. In general symptoms usually disappear in just a few days at lower altitudes. Usually activities at high altitude can also be resumed after the symptoms are gone. However, the condition can be fatal and if the symptoms are severe and you remain at a high altitude. Therefore at all times when climbing a mountain, please make sure you are monitoring your condition and wellbeing. If you start to feel unsafe and experience acute symptoms make sure the guides escort you down if you need to seek medical help.