People who are not used to hilly areas, when suddenly go to a height of 2400m or above, experience altitude sickness. Also known as soroche or acute mountain sickness, it occurs as the body is not able to get enough oxygen from the atmosphere at such a height. The extent to which a person may feel sick will vary, depending upon the height being scaled. People with certain preexisting conditions might be at a greater risk of getting affected. However, taking some precautionary measures can prevent the condition.
It is a result of the decrease in barometric pressure on the body. The barometric pressure decreases with an increase in height. This causes a decrease in the number of oxygen molecules at high elevations. Therefore, there is an increased pressure on the pulmonary capillaries and not enough oxygen for the body. The body needs to adjust to this decrease in oxygen level. Certain symptoms might be experienced by the affected person, depending on how the body adjusts to this change.
It is characterized by symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulty, insomnia, fatigue, and decreased appetite. These symptoms may last for a few hours to a few days. One may prevent the condition by taking certain preventive measures like taking medicines and eating certain foods. Some other preventive measures include:
- Ascending to higher altitudes slowly, and giving the body enough time to adjust to the change gradually. This can be done by stopping at different heights and covering the distance in a longer time span.
- People prone to this condition, should avoid flying or driving directly to the place situated on high altitudes, as this may give the body very little time to adjust to the new elevation level.
- Also, do not exert yourself while traveling to such places. Allow your body to rest adequately and avoid indulging in any strenuous activity after reaching the place.
- If the symptoms appear while climbing, one must stop climbing immediately, and rest until the symptoms reduce or go away completely.
- Keep yourself hydrated before and even while climbing.
- Avoid consumption of alcohol, antidepressant drugs, sleeping pills, and smoking prior to climbing or while climbing.
- Eat light and avoid eating junk foods, as that may lead to mountain sickness and other complications.
- To prevent altitude sickness, one needs to adjust to the decreased levels of oxygen. This is known as altitude acclimatization. A good way to do this is to set up a base camp at a lower elevation, and climb a few feet and then return to the base camp again. This gives the body enough time to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels.
- An oxygen concentrator can also help relieve breathing difficulty caused due to mountain sickness.
- For people prone to severe mountain sickness, the use of a drug known as acetazolamide (Diamox) can prove to be helpful. However, it is important to your physician before taking the drug.
If you are planning to go trekking or climbing to higher altitude, it would be best to learn about the symptoms and treatment of this condition. The condition should not be ignored and proper rest should be taken, as it may prove fatal in certain cases.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.