"Every step I take is finally toward the biggest goal of my life, to stand on top of the world”. These are the words of a 13-yr old Californian boy, who has become the youngest ever to climb Everest. But that was Jordan, born in the lap of the San Bernardino Mountains - the ski town of Big Bear, California - who was clear about his mission of climbing the highest peaks of all the seven continents of the earth. Like Jordan, many would like to climb a mountain or two, not only to feed their passion, but also to enjoy that once in a lifetime experience of being on top of the world. The fun and excitement that ascending a mountain provides is rather hard to match. But then, so are the dangers! One such very real threat is altitude sickness or mountain sickness. If left untreated, it can prove fatal. However, nothing should deter you if you want to get to the very top, and altitude sickness is hardly reason enough to give it all up! Navigate along these pointers on altitude sickness and its possible remedies before you begin that ascent.
Preventing Altitude Sickness
As the altitude increases, the pressure decreases, and so does oxygen. If the body is not well acclimatized, capillaries of both the brain and lungs can rupture or leak at high altitudes, resulting in fluid accumulation. If this build-up continues, it can prove fatal. However, such a situation can be brought under control by acclimatizing the body accordingly. One of the main causes of altitude sickness lies in ascending at a faster pace. This gives less or no chance at all to your body to get used to varying pressure and oxygen levels. No matter how fit you may be physically, altitude sickness is something that can hit anyone.
Symptoms Of Altitude Sickness
- Shortness of breath
- Low energy
- Less or no sleep at night
- Nausea and giddiness
- No appetite
Apart from these, following are the symptoms seen in severe cases:
- Decreased overall co-ordination (ataxia), causing the affected person difficulty in walking straight
- Blue or gray nails or lips
- Increasing tiredness
If these symptoms prevail, it is advisable to simply descend and get medical care as soon as possible.
Altitude Sickness Prevention
- Instead of flying or driving to a high altitude to start the climb, start below 3000 meters and then slowly begin to ascend. If you have done otherwise, try not to strain your body or ascend too much in the first 24 hours.
- Start increasing your altitude by 300 meters per day, and for every 900 meters that you climb, take a day off for your body to adapt to the conditions at that particular height.
- Even if you climb high, try to descend a little for sleeping. “Climb high, sleep low” is what you need to practice.
- Hydrate yourself well. Take at least six liters of fluids per day to stay well-hydrated.
- You can even indulge in other small activities during the day instead of sleeping, as sleeping only further decreases respiration, which, in turn, is likely to accelerate the symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Avoid taking alcohol, tobacco or any other depressants.
- Eat a high calorie diet like bread, cereals, whole grains and pasta.
- If affected, consider taking acetazolamide (Diamox) with prior permission from your doctor.
- If you experience any of the symptoms associated with altitude sickness, avoid climbing further until better.
- The first thing to do is to drink plenty of water.
- Acetazolamide helps increase respiration and speeds up your body’s adaptation process.
- For headaches, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). However, if younger than 20, avoid taking Aspirin.
- Nifedipine cures high blood pressure.
- The Gammon bag is quite a revolution in saving lives of people affected by altitude sickness. It is a sealed chamber with a pump. The affected person is made to sit inside this bag-like contraption, after which air is pumped into it to blow it up. This increases the oxygen inside the chamber, helping the patient seated inside breathe properly. It provides enough immediate relief to enable him/her to climb down for further treatment.
- Simpler remedies such as having lemon soda or ginger can also help a lot.