ALTITUDE SICKNESS, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Summer is a difficult season in terms of weather in the far east.

It is the monsoon season in most of the region (including most of India and South East Asia), and it is not easy to find a place where there is no rain.

Throughout the Indian subcontinent, there are monsoons in the summer, so many travellers in India spend this season in the Ladakh area in north India.

Ladakh is a very high desert region (between 3000 meters above sea level in the valleys and up to 6,500 meters at the mountain peaks) surrounded by the Himalayas and Karakoram ridges, the monsoons do not get to that area.

Before climbing to heights, whether it’s during a hike or when flying to a high altitude, you should know what is Altitude Sickness and how to prevent it.

The low oxygen levels found at high altitudes can cause problems for travellers who are going to destinations higher than 8,000 feet above sea level. The best way to avoid getting sick is to ascend gradually, but if you have to ascend quickly (for example – if you are flying to a very high place), medicines are available to prevent Altitude Sickness.



Ascend Gradually

If you plan to travel to a higher altitude and sleep there, you can get sick if you don’t ascend gradually:

  • Do not go from a low altitude to sleeping at higher than 9,000 feet above sea level in one day. Instead, spend a few days at 8,000–9,000 feet before proceeding to a higher altitude to give your body time to adjust to the low oxygen levels.
    Once you are above 9,000 feet, increase your sleeping altitude by no more than 1,600 feet per day. For every 3,300 feet, you ascend, try to spend a day without ascending further.
  • Do not drink alcohol or exercise heavily for at least 48 hours after you arrive at an altitude above 8,000 feet.
  • As an alternative, consider taking a day trip to a higher altitude. It’s less risky to take a day trip to a higher altitude and then return to a lower altitude to sleep.
  • Sometimes your itinerary may not allow a gradual ascent. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about prescribing a medicine to prevent Altitude Sickness. You should also be familiar with the symptoms of Altitude Sickness so that you can take steps to prevent it from becoming more severe. Many high-altitude destinations are remote and lack access to medical care, so preventing Altitude Sickness is better than getting sick and needing emergency treatment.


Altitude Sickness – Know The Symptoms

 

  • The symptoms of altitude illness are similar to those of an alcohol-related hangover: a headache, feeling tired, lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Children who cannot yet talk may just seem apathetic so you should pay them extra attention to make sure they are ok.
  • Mild cases can be treated according to symptoms (such as with painkillers for a headache) and should go away on their own within a few days.
  • Medication is available to shorten the time it takes to get used to high altitude. However, people with Altitude Sickness should not continue to ascend until they have gotten used to the altitude.
  • A person whose symptoms are getting worse while resting at the same altitude must descend, as a risk of serious illness or death is possible.
  • One severe consequence of Altitude Sickness is swelling of the brain (high-altitude cerebral edema [HACE]). Symptoms include extreme fatigue, drowsiness, confusion, and loss of coordination. HACE is rare, but it can be fatal. If it develops, the person must immediately descend to a lower altitude.
  • Swelling of the lungs (high-altitude pulmonary edema [HAPE]) is another severe consequence of Altitude Sickness. Symptoms include being out of breath, weakness, and cough. A person with HAPE should also descend and may need treatment by oxygen.

Preexisting Medical Conditions

People with preexisting medical conditions should talk with a doctor before travelling to high altitudes:

  • Before the trip consult with your doctor if you suffer from a heart or a lung disease who could advise regarding high-altitude medicine.
  • People with diabetes need to be aware that complications of diabetes may be triggered by Altitude Sickness and may be hard to treat if they are taking medicine for Altitude Sickness, consult your doctor before travelling.
  • Pregnant women are allowed to take trips to high altitudes, but they should talk with their doctor because some doctors recommend that pregnant women do not sleep at altitudes above 12,000 feet.

 

Enjoy, travel and stay aware.

Yours, Shiri.