Altitude sickness is the sickness induced when one moves forward to higher altitudes or higher elevations. In Nepal, various locals and tourists get the symptoms of this sickness while trekking to mountains. Generally, the probability of getting altitude sickness starts from 3500 meters.
The reason behind altitude sickness is due to less oxygen exposure in high altitudes. In some cases, the body will adjust to the surrounding, decreasing the risk of altitude sickness. Some dangerous forms of altitude sickness can lead to life-threatening issues. The risk of altitude sickness is seen in 20% of people when they are at a height of 8,000 m and 40% of people, at a height of 10,000 m.
There is no hard and fast rule as to why people might suffer from altitude sickness. Anyone in the high altitudes is prone to it. However, young people, people residing in lower altitudes, and those who are suffering from respiratory diseases are more susceptible to altitude sickness.
Types of Altitude Sickness
There are three categories of altitude sickness with common and severe form. The types are as follows:
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Acute Mountain Sickness is the most common form of altitude sickness. This type of sickness is suffered by most people. The symptoms of AMS are headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. If these symptoms are ignored, they can lead to life-threatening conditions that affect the brain or lungs. Furthermore, there are more chances of getting complicated HAPE and HACE sicknesses.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema is a severe form of altitude sickness causing breathlessness. Excess fluid gets buildup in the lungs. The symptoms are loss of appetite, fatigue, and loss of energy, shortness of breath even while resting, problem sleeping etc. It can also lead to high fever and frothy cough with blood tints.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is another dangerous form that causes fluid buildup in the brain. The symptoms of HACE are headache, confusion, hallucinations, weakness, and loss of coordination, lack of consciousness, and paradoxical undressing (removing of clothes).
When suffering from altitude sickness, it is observed that the symptoms do not get better even after medications. Necessary precautions and care should be taken in proper time to alleviate sickness. The best-proven treatment of altitude sickness is acclimatization. It is the process of letting the body slowly get used to the air pressure at higher altitudes.
Below is the useful treatment to adopt during altitude sickness:
- Ascending slowly to higher elevations
- Stop traveling and rest for at least 24-48 hours
- Take ibuprofen (pain killer) to reduce headaches
- Drink enough water
- Avoid alcohol and smoking
- Avoid exercise
- Moving to a lower altitude to take sleep and start ascending again.
- Taking oxygen or using Gamow bag in extreme cases
- Taking medication such as Acetazolamide and dexamethasone when you cannot make a slow ascent. It decreases the symptoms of altitude sickness.
Altitude sickness occurs anywhere when hiking above 3500 meters. Several mountaineers and trekkers must be careful while trekking. In Nepal, mountaineers and trekkers climbing mountains or ascending towards higher elevations are often victims of this disease. Additionally in Nepal, the Himalayan Rescue Team offers the facility of Gamow bag especially in the routes towards Lukla. One must be aware to take necessary precautions regarding altitude sickness while trekking.