Planning to go for trekking or hiking? Just beware of altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness, Altitude Illness or Soroche. It is the sickness that you are subjected to, when you are at high altitudes, where there is less oxygen. When a person is at a height of more than 8000 feet, he is exposed to low levels of air pressure, which can lead to the sickness. The body does not get as much as oxygen as it is used to and this causes headache and other problems. The condition can further progress to high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema. The susceptibility to altitude sickness varies in people and is usually manifest as a collection of some non-specific symptoms.
The condition can be prevented to a great extent by taking certain measures, like drinking ample of fluid to hydrate the body, avoidance of alcohol, reducing strenuous activities like skiing in the initial 24 hours, take supplemental oxygen and using certain drugs like Acetazolamide. Certain folk remedies are also available for the prevention and cure of high altitude mountain sickness. As for instance, people in Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru drink tea made from the cocoa plant. Altitude sickness usually does not affect people traveling in aircraft, because modern aeroplanes have pressurized passenger compartments. Let us explore more on altitude sickness.
Causes of Altitude Sickness
Though the actual cause of altitude sickness is not known yet, it is believed that it occurs due to low atmospheric pressure conditions, but not necessarily in low-oxygen conditions at sea level pressure. Usually, the oxygen content remains constant till 70,000 feet, but beyond that, the air pressure drops gradually. When the body gets used to such changes in climatic conditions, the symptoms goes away. However, altitude sickness can proceed to become High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). The sickness is usually caused when you move upwards at a fast speed and can be prevented if you proceed slowly. Walking slowly gives your body time to get used to the conditions prevailing at the height.
Signs & Symptoms Of Altitude Sickness
The symptoms of altitude sickness may vary from being mild to severe. Some of them have been listed below:
- Having a headache (the headache is usually throbbing and gets worse at night and the time when you wake up)
- Loss of appetite
- You may feel like vomiting
- Feeling weak and lazy (in severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything)
- Waking up during the night and not sleeping well
- Feeling dizzy
- General malaise
- Persistent and rapid pulse
- Pins and needles sensation
- Shortness of breath upon exertion
- Fatigue or weakness
There are certain symptoms of altitude sickness that give a sign of life threatening condition. These include:
- Pulmonary edema, manifested as fever, persistent dry cough and shortness of breath, even while resting.
- Cerebral edema, manifested as headache, not responding to analgesics, continuous vomiting sensation, unsteady gait and gradual loss of consciousness.