Altitude sickness is a common problem while going trekking. Also, sometimes altitude sickness can get severe, and people also may lose their life, it has happened many times. However, the question is how to avoid altitude sickness during trekking?
If there is a problem, there must be solutions and since people have been going mountaineering and trekking at such high altitudes also may have developed one or two tricks of their own to answer how to avoid altitude sickness during trekking. There are several ways to tackle altitude sickness and we are going to discuss how to avoid altitude sickness during trekking.
Altitude sickness is a condition that occurs in the body rather than the infectious element attacking the body. It is known by many names like mountain sickness, Puna, soroche, Acosta disease, hypobaropathy, altitude illness, and some other names in various countries. But what is it? and why does it occur? Why only occur at high altitudes? And what changes occur within the body when altitude sickness occurs?
Altitude sickness is a condition that is caused by the presence of a low amount of oxygen in the atmosphere which occurs due to the increased altitude. Increased altitude is not the direct cause of altitude sickness but the lack of oxygen which is caused by increased altitude.
There are two types of altitude sickness are Acute altitude sickness and chronic altitude sickness.
Acute altitude sickness
Acute altitude sickness is caused when people get exposed to high altitudes for a short amount of time. This shows mild symptoms like headache, vomiting, and some mild reactions. There is no definite thing that can be said which will exactly tell that a person is suffering from acute altitude sickness. Every person’s body reacts to a lower amount of oxygen in the body in a different way. Acute altitude sickness is not that harmful and gets away with mild discomfort and enough rest.
Chronic altitude sickness
Chronic altitude sickness occurs when people are exposed to high altitudes for an extended period of time. Chronic altitude sickness can be fatal if not given treatment or some form of medication fast.
Before getting to know how to avoid altitude sickness let us first look at the symptoms of altitude sickness. Following are the symptoms of altitude sickness:
- Shortness of breath is one of the most common symptoms of altitude sickness. It is common to have it while being on the move or running but due to altitude sickness, it can happen during resting also.
- Loss of appetite. To tackle altitude sickness, one should eat a lot but when altitude sickness hits you will lose your desire to consume food
- Feeling extremely tired and not feeling to do anything is also one of the symptoms of altitude sickness.
- The Head is the part where altitude sickness hits the most. Your brain will feel the deficiency of oxygen in the breath more than your body. Minor to extreme headache is the symptom of altitude sickness.
- A person who is suffering from altitude sickness may feel minor to extreme dizziness. When a person becomes dizzy, walking at a higher altitude is extremely dangerous as they are more prone to accidents.
- In extreme altitude sickness, the person also may develop mild to extreme fever.
- An individual that is suffering from altitude sickness also may start vomiting.
- Persistent cough also may be due to altitude sickness.
- Swelling of the hands, feet, and face also may be caused by altitude sickness.
How to avoid altitude sickness while trekking?
The following are some of the ways to avoid altitude sickness while trekking:
Acclimatization is a process by which an organism adjusts to the change in the environment. We are living beings and by the combination of various things, our body is alive. Like atmospheric pressure, a certain temperature, a certain number of vitamins, minerals, and other components. Our body is adjusted to everything, the temperature of our surroundings, the atmospheric pressure, and the amount of diet.
However, if a sudden change is induced by a sudden increase or by a sudden decrease like changing your diet too much or too less then our body cannot operate with that. So, gradual change must be induced and in simple terms, it is called Acclimatization.
Acclimatization is the best way to avoid altitude sickness. This is the most important step and needs to be included in the trekking schedule. Generally, after entering a little harsh environment territory people take a day for acclimatization. It is not something that we do manually, our body is automatically programmed to adjust to a certain change in the factors of the environment. This change can occur from hours to days. But it is safe to take a day to avoid altitude sickness.
Take it slow
Acclimatization is a great defense mechanism in our body, it is a very impressive character that our body can adjust itself to the change in various factors of the environment automatically. However, there is a certain level to which the body can adjust itself. Our body cannot go to that level. Yes, some with sheer force and dedication can blur that line but it will remain there forever.
No matter how much the human body will acclimatize it can never survive without gears in the death zone, no matter how much the body will adjust it can never survive in the sea without proper help. Acclimatization and adaptability also have their limits and the trekkers have to take it slow.
The best way to tackle altitude sickness is to take it slow. Some people are extremely fit, they can even walk through the 3-4 days trekking route in just one day if they want but they do not because they know it can be lethal. His external body may be strong and go there but the internal parts may not be able to keep with the change and nobody can accurately predict how their internal body parts will react to the sudden change.
Since it is very difficult to know exactly what will happen, taking it slowly and steadily is the best way to avoid altitude sickness. It is suggested that to make a trekking schedule so that each day the change in altitude will be about 300m above sea level and at most 500m from the sea level.
Drink enough water
It is the best and the easiest way to avoid altitude sickness. Water is our life source, there is no life without it. Every animal needs to have a certain amount of water per day. If the needed amount of water is not given to the body it cannot function properly. It is needed for various biological as well as metabolic functions.
Not just that our body itself is made with a significant percentage of water. We need it every day and drinking it frequently is considered good for our health. However, if you are going to a higher altitude then you are going to have to consume more water as it helps you to adjust to higher altitudes.
It is said that the water we consume is also linked to the humidity in the air. When we go to a higher altitude the humidity in the air decreases significantly. According to the doctors, to balance this the trekkers need to consume twice the amount of water they used to consume naturally. If they keep their body hydrated their body will also not be the victim of weakness. Keeping yourself hydrated is the best way to avoid altitude sickness.
Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
Many people are addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. They consume it wherever they are in their houses, at parties, and even while going trekking. Other places they may consume if they want to but consuming it on trekking may be lethal.
People might think since alcohol and cigarettes numb the pain if they were to consume it while being on the trail, they may be able to complete it without feeling tired, and will be easy for them. However, the condition is exactly reverse, and consuming alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes at altitude can take stress in the body.
Some research, experts in the medical field, and experts in the trekkers say that consuming alcohol and nicotine lessens the ability to acclimatize and adjust to the environment.
Acclimatization is the greatest ability of humans to avoid altitude sickness and consuming them will lower your greatest ability in the high altitudes. So, even if you have a habit of drinking and smoking everywhere you do, try not to do it at high altitudes as the result may be fatal. If you have to drink then drink after acclimatization at least 48 hours and then also do not drink alcohol directly, drink it by mixing.
Another thing that alcohol does decrease the chance of avoiding altitude sickness is it dehydrates the body which also increases the chances of altitude sickness. So, in order to avoid altitude sickness no matter the cost try to avoid alcohol and nicotine.
Altitude sickness gets worse at nighttime. So, to avoid altitude sickness by night try to plan the route so that you can sleep low. During the trek one does not continuously climb, one has to go up-down, and so on. In order to avoid altitude sickness, try to sleep low while you climb in the daytime.
In the daytime complete the climbing part while in the nighttime try to manage sleeping places at low places. This does not apply everywhere as it may not be able to be managed. However, if a place can be found in similar conditions, it can do wonders to avoid altitude sickness.
Eat good and healthy food with lots of carbs
During trekking, you are going to need lots of calories, and you will be working about 10 times harder than you work in daily life. So, you are obviously going to need more energy than the usual day.
So, even if you are dieting or having balanced and low-calorie food every day, eat food with lots of carbohydrates while going on the trek. Eating more carbs and other foods high in energy is also an effective way to avoid altitude sickness. Eat lots of food that is rich in various ingredients and keep your body balanced in all ways to avoid altitude sickness.
Medication is also one of the ways to avoid altitude sickness. If you had a history of altitude sickness in past, then it is best to take medicine before traveling to places with high altitudes. Taking medicine as a precaution is also a good way to avoid altitude sickness. There are also various types of medicine, so it is best to see a doctor before going to high altitude and have a prescription for medicine.
Acetazolamide is generally used to treat altitude sickness. However, it is a medicine that is primarily used to treat glaucoma. It is also used to treat altitude sickness also. However, it is dangerous to take the medicine without the proper prescription from the doctors.
Taking medicine will decrease the chance of altitude sickness but despite taking the medicine you may suffer from altitude sickness, everyone who takes medicine must know this.
Getting down as fast as possible
Getting down to the lower altitude is not the way to avoid altitude sickness but it is a crucial step that can be taken to lessen the effect of altitude sickness in the body. In the course of trekking whenever you feel altitude sickness is getting better of you and your condition seems like will not get any better then it is best to stop proceeding further and get back down.
The faster you get to lower altitude faster you will be able to recover from the altitude sickness. Sometimes one may not be able to get down on their own due to altitude sickness. In that condition be quick to call for help and be quick to descend the ill person downward. If more time is spent at a higher altitude, it can develop into chronic altitude sickness and it is very bad and could be fatal. So, if altitude sickness is extreme then try to descend to a lower altitude as fast as possible.