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Altitude Sickness

September 14, 2014 | Permalink

Altitude Sickness - How to avoid it
 
After 8,000 feet, most people begin to feel the effects of altitude. Regardless of your fitness level, altitude effects everyone differently, some suffer every time they go up, others barely feel any effect at all. Physicians do not know why some people are more susceptible than others to the effects of altitude. In addition, a good experience at higher altitudes does not guarantee that your next venture will be just as good.
 
Altitude Mountain Sickness (AMS) is low oxygen content in the blood (hypoxia) resulting from low oxygen pressure at high altitude. The effects of not enough oxygen being delivered to the brain and muscles are headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, irritability, insomnia and lack of appetite. Unfortunately as you breath harder to get more oxygen, you become short of breath.
 
Barometric pressure also plays a role.  Latitude, weather, and temperature influences the Barometric pressure and corresponding oxygen pressure.
 
When sleeping at higher altitudes be wary of prolonged symptons, coughing throughout the night and a persistent headache may be a sign that you are suffering from more than just feeling icky. High altitude pulmonary edema (lungs fill with fluid) and high altitude cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), are lethal if not treated immediately.
 
Acclimatization takes time, for high altitude mountaineering adventures, it can take weeks. Changes are gradual, over several days the body begins to make more red blood cells to deliver more oxygen to your vital organs. Unfortunately once you are back at sea level, the excess cells dissipate in a few days, and you have to begin all over again on your next venture into high altitude.
 
Repeated exposure to altitude can result in recurring pulmonary and cerebral edema. Even if the cases are mild and infrequent they can result in permanent lung and brain damage, or heart failure.
 
Summary
 
1. When you do not feel well in the mountains, it is not always clear that altitude is the problem; fatigue, sun exposure, dehydration, and hunger can cause similar symptons. If you get a headache, drink lots of water and have an energy bar. Research has shown that ibuprofen is effective for altitude headaches. If the headache passes you may continue, if it does not or worsens you must descend. Research has also shown that taking an aspirin every morning while at higher altitude is helpful in reducing the effects of higher altitude on the body.
 
2. Ascend gradually, do your climbing during the day. Sleeping above 8,000 feet prolongs your exposure to low oxygen pressure and instead of recovering your symptons will worsen. Climb high, sleep low.
 
3. Many climbers use ginkgo biloba, however physicians say that more research is required to determine its effectiveness. Diamox helps to accelerate acclimatization if taken BEFORE traveling to high altitude. Ibuprofen is effective for altitude headaches. Avoid sleeping pills and alcohol, get plenty of fluids and food. If you ascend to quickly, it is unlikely that any drug or supplement will help.
 
4. Altitude sickness can progress quickly to pulmonary or cerebral edema. Watch your climbing partners for the following symptons: persistent cough and or headache, labored breathing, stumbling, irritability, confused, impaired judgement, disorientation, lack of coordination, agitation, these are signs of advanced altitude sickness. Descend quickly and safely and seek medical attention.
 
3 Golden Rules
 
1. If you are feeling unwell, it is altitude sickness

2. Never ascend if you have symptons of altitude sickness

3. If any of your symptons become worse, descend