Altitude Sickness: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Prevention

Home remedies and treatments for altitude sickness include drinking water, avoiding exercise, and consuming acetaminophen, herbal mixtures, lemon soda, and ginger. Many people feel uneasiness and sickness when they climb towards high altitudes. This is termed acute mountain or altitude sickness.

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude Sickness is also known by the name of acute mountain sickness. At times, it also turns into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which can be a life-threatening condition. The basic reason for the cause of altitude sickness is also the failure of acclimatization of the human body beyond a certain elevation. Most of the time, the human body fails to adjust in terms of homeostasis of fluid balance and chemistry. At times, the process of acclimatization stretches from days to weeks, after which the body can at least respond to the external stimulus and normalize its metabolic rates accordingly.

According to the University of Buffalo Reporter, brain swelling, and pulmonary edema are major problems at high altitude.

Causes of Altitude Sickness

As you go to higher altitudes, the level of oxygen gradually drops, therefore, making it difficult to breathe. This usually happens when you hike, trek, or climb a hill very fast; your body finds it very hard to get as much oxygen as is required, causing you to breathe at a fast speed as well. This can result in the symptoms of altitude sickness, such as a headache, insomnia, and more.

Other causes include:

  • Overexertion during the ascent
  • Low levels of fluid in the body
  • Hypothermia, i.e., when the body temperature drops to dangerous levels
  • Alcohol intake

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Symptoms can be seen within 12 to 24 hours of arrival, and they normally increase at night as your body tries to achieve its resting metabolic rates. Some of the symptoms are an increased rate of heartbeat, breathing problem due to physical exertion, nausea, tiredness, headache, and sleeplessness. Air is thinner at high altitude areas. The higher you climb, the less oxygen your body is able to breathe, which is the fundamental reason for altitude sickness. To compensate for this, you can practice deep breathing exercises.

Altitude sickness can present itself with many signs and symptoms, let us discuss them below:

  • Discomfort
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Persistent rapid pulse
  • Pins and needles sensation in the body
  • Peripheral Edema, and
  • Fatigue

The symptoms of altitude sickness can worsen and become more serious if not managed in time. It can also cause:

  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Incessant coughing
  • Blood while coughing
  • Gradual loss of consciousness
  • Paranoia
  • A headache during the night
  • Ataxia, i.e., not being able to walk straight, and
  • Blueness of the nails and lips

Diagnosis of Altitude Sickness

Something to note about altitude sickness is that its symptoms can only be experienced 2500 meters above the sea level, which if n0t treated in time can be deadly. Therefore, it is necessary that you receive a proper and early diagnosis for your condition.

For diagnosis, the doctor will ask you a series of questions to check for the symptoms. They will also use a stethoscope to check your heartbeat and for any shortness of breath. The doctor will also look for any knocking or crackling sounds (rales) coming from your lungs to check if there is a build-up of fluids in there. If there is a presence of water in your lungs (pulmonary edema), then this requires instant treatment. The doctor will also perform a chest x-ray for this purpose.

Other tests may include blood tests, CT scan of the brain, and an Electrocardiogram (ECG).

Treatments and Home Remedies for Altitude Sickness

While home remedies prove substantially helpful in dealing with the symptoms of altitude sickness, it is also important that one go for a proper medical check-up if the condition is severe. In addition to this, it is hard to get medical assistance in hilly and mountainous regions, therefore, one should be aware of certain treatments and remedies to prevent altitude sickness both before changing altitudes, and while you are experiencing it.

Combination Drugs

Treatments for altitude sickness include the use of medicines like aspirin (only for adults), ibuprofen, and more. To treat the condition, the doctor will prescribe medications for each symptom respectively, like Zofran for nausea, sleeping pills for insomnia, and so on.

They will also provide the patient with oxygen, if available, and other medications to lower the blood pressure levels, such as nifedipine. In advanced cases, incubation and breathing machines may also be required. For swelling of the brain (cerebral edema), they’ll prescribe dexamethasone.

In highly advanced conditions, a surgery may also be required.

Acetaminophen

Rather than using combination drugs like aspirin, which have side effects, it’s advisable to use acetaminophen, a safer drug that confers instant relief from pain at higher elevations.

Eat Digestible Food

Avoid eating heavy, oily, junk foods while ascending in height. You should also eat in small portions. Eat foods which are easily digestible, so your body doesn’t expend energy more than it can afford. It is also important that you add foods rich in carbohydrates in your diet, such as legumes, oatmeal, etc.

Home remedies prove substantially helpful in dealing with the symptoms of altitude sickness. In addition to this, it is hard to get medical assistance in hilly and mountainous regions. Therefore, one should be aware of home remedies to prevent altitude sickness both before changing altitudes and while you are experiencing it. Different home remedies and measures to avoid altitude sickness are mentioned below:

Drink Water

When your breathing becomes fast and deep, you tend to dehydrate at a faster rate. To counter this, drink water in considerable amounts to keep yourself hydrated. Be vigilant and check whether the urine is clear and in proper quantities. Alcohol can add to the dehydration problem, so it is better to avoid it completely, especially when you are climbing at higher elevations.

Avoid Exercises

Exercising should be avoided, even if it is not rigorous until you are completely regulated to the new altitude. Thus, when you are at high altitudes, invest more of your time in leisure activities, rather than in those which require the expenditure of energy.  Limiting exertion is better than using a bunch of different medications. Activities, like running, hiking, lifting, or straining in any capacity, can worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness.

altitudesicknessremewdiesHerbal Potions

These herbal potions are made from the common ingredients which are easily found at home. Ingredients include basic and normal things like lemon, water, ginger, garlic, and honey. Drinking the potion helps in building body stamina, and fighting colds, coughs, fevers, and headaches, while also providing the energy to combat the metabolic effects of high altitude areas.

Lemon Soda

This can be taken to prevent vomiting, the colloquial tendency. However, home remedies are more useful and easier to get. You can take a glass of fresh sweet lemon soda, digestive capsules made of herbs and natural ingredients like green mango, amla, ginger, or methi.

Ginger

Christopher Hobbs, the renowned herbalist, believes ginger to be very beneficial for treating altitude sickness, as it plays a pivotal role in treating mild levels of altitude sickness. It is advisable to mix 20 drops of ginger liquid with a half cup of water in case you suffer from altitude sickness.

Travellers can experience High Altitude Cerebral Edema or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, in which case, emergency medical attention should be sought out due to their life-threatening potential, as confirmed by International Society For Mountain Medicine. However, home remedies can help prevent the condition from getting to this dangerous point.

Preventions

In order to prevent altitude sickness or mountain sickness, one needs to follow a proper diet plan and take certain other measures like no consumption of alcohol and caffeine, no smoking, etc. It is also important that you keep yourself properly hydrated while climbing; it is recommended that you consume almost double the amount of water that you may consume at home; this is because at higher altitudes the atmosphere becomes very dry, thereby increasing the need for water. Not just that, but the ascent should be done slowly and tactfully, as too much exertion on the body can cause or aggravate the condition of altitude sickness.

A proper diet while climbing a mountain should include both potassium and carbohydrates in rich quantities, such as broccoli, potatoes, chocolate, dates, and dry fruits. Medicines can be taken before you begin the ascent, such as acetazolamide (Diamox) to prevent acute mountain sickness.

Besides, at night one should ideally sit by the fire in order to avoid getting hypothermia.

About the Author: Meenakshi Nagdeve loves trekking, traveling, food, entrepreneurship, and technology. Passionate about writing, she writes to share her experiences with the world. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends. Listening music is her hobby and she can spend hours listening classical songs.

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