One of the most common health conditions that stop people from enjoying high altitude treks and travel is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a negative health condition caused by ascent to high altitudes. Most commonly, it occurs above 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) as there is lack of oxygen and low air pressure at high altitudes.
This condition is caused by insufficient oxygen in the blood and common symptoms include shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and problems with sleep. In some cases altitude sickness can be fatal.
Altitude sickness can also be classified into two types: High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is a severe form of altitude sickness in which the brain swells with fluid because of the physiological effects of traveling to a high altitude. This can lead to loss of coordination, coma, and even death.
Similarly, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a life-threatening form of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema, characterized by accumulation of fluid in the lungs because of ascent to altitudes above 2,500 meters (8,200 ft).
As you can see, both these conditions can fatal.
So how do you avoid altitude sickness or reduce its effects the next time you are trekking? Here are a few tips that may help you.
1. Drink a lot of water to keep yourself hydrated
Altitude sickness leads to shortness of breath which can cause your breathing to become heavy and quick. This in turn dehydrates you and makes you weaker.
Avoid this by making sure you drink about three to four liters of water per day.
2. Intake garlic and cloves to enhance the blood flow
One of the most effective natural remedies for altitude sickness is to have garlic and cloves. Garlic helps to thin the blood vessels and enhances the flow of blood in the body. It also helps to lower the feeling of dizziness and nausea. Similarly, cloves also help the body use oxygen more efficiently.
Both garlic and cloves can be eaten raw (in the case of garlic, you need to peel it first) while you are on the trail. In higher regions local regularly have garlic soup to combat the effects of AMS. In fact it is even considered a delicacy and offered to travelers.
3. Take time to acclimatize to new conditions
It is very important to acclimatize to a new weather and climate. Ideally you should spend your first day at high altitudes relaxing and not continuing to climb further until you have completely adjusted to the current altitude. You must ascend slowly and comfortably.
When climbing, it is a good idea to climb at a rate of 500 to 1000 feet daily with an occasional day of rest. Doing so will increase your depth of respiration since your body will release more red blood cells to carry oxygen and thereby letting it operate with less oxygen.
Patients with high-altitude pulmonary edema (severe mountain sickness), who ascend to altitudes higher than 2500 m, should not spend the night at an altitude any more than 300–350 m higher than the previous night. People with a predisposition to acute mountain sickness can tolerate ascents of 400–500 m daily above 2500 m. So, don’t rush to climb, take it slow and easy.
4. Say no to alcohol and caffeine
You might already be dehydrated by fast, deep breathing required at higher altitudes which can get even worse after alcohol and caffeine consumption since both can cause severe dehydration.
Even if you are very tempted to consume alcohol or caffeine at a high altitude, it’s best to avoid them if you want to complete your trek at your best condition and have a good experience.
5. Getting relief for headaches
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms associated with altitude sickness.
You can tackle this problem with the help of medications such as ibuprofen which is a non-steroidal painkiller. This will help alleviate both the headache and nausea.
If you prefer a medicine with lower side effects, you can also go for paracetamol which is also used as an analgesic.
6. Use Acetazolamide to reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness
Acetazolamide is a widely used medication for treating altitude sickness so don’t hesitate to use it if your symptoms get severe.
This medication can help decrease headaches, tiredness, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Acetazolamide can also be taken as a preventive measure before symptoms appear.
Having said that Acetazolamide can have minor side effects such as dizziness, loss of appetite, or increased urination so it is best to consult a medical expert or pharmacist first.
7. Eat a lot of carbs
It is advisable to watch out for what you drink and eat at a higher altitude! Foods rich in carbs allow you to use oxygen more efficiently and help maintain your energy levels. This is particularly important since trekking burns up a lot of calories.
The next time you go trekking, don’t forget to pack some light but carb-rich foods like whole grains, cereal products, bread, oatmeal, brown rice, etc. You can also easily find protein bars at local stores to serve as a quick snack during your trek.
8. Try using lemon juice and cinnamon to mitigate symptoms
Though altitude sickness cannot be cured completely, it’s symptoms can be reduced with natural remedies such as lemon and cinnamon.
Lemon juice is known to reduce headaches, coughs, vomiting and fever and it can be easily taken with crushed garlic or honey. Similarly, cinnamon helps to soothe the stomach muscles, preventing nausea and vomiting in the process.
9. Descend if the symptoms get worse and seek medical help
One of the most important things to remember while travelling to higher altitudes is that you should not risk your life for climbing.
What this means is that you should stop immediately if your symptoms are getting severe. Some individuals tend to keep on climbing even after experiencing acute symptoms of altitude sickness which can be fatal.
It is advisable to stop and relax at the point where you are and if the symptoms show no signs of reducing, start descending.
Protect yourself against AMS
The team at Swacon International Hospital are trained to handle all types of Travel Medicine including dealing with Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Whether it’s conducting a health check up or prescribing preventive and curative measures for travelers, our team of expert doctors and medical staff are always ready to help.
Health for All