Many an avid trekker will be faced with the issue of potential altitude sickness during their adventures around the world. Altitude sickness is incredibly common and something that can get very dangerous very quickly if it is not addressed properly. The best way to deal with altitude sickness, though, is to prevent it.
Prevention is always better than treatment. Many trekkers don’t know this before they head off on their journeys and sometimes assume that the sickness just won’t affect them. Well, we’re here to tell you that there’s nowhere to hide and that altitude sickness is something you will learn about the hard way. But worry not! We have created this guide so that you are aware of what altitude sickness is, and know how to stay safe while trekking.
What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is very simple to define: it’s an illness caused by an ascent to a high altitude (anything above 8,000 feet usually) which results in a shortage of oxygen going into the body, causing it to react in a number of unpleasant ways.
The key symptoms of altitude sickness are nausea, hyperventilation and exhaustion. You may also feel dizzy, have a loss of appetite and problems with your sleep.
There are three types of altitude sickness, all of which vary in terms of severity. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the most common of the three, and the least dangerous, though it can progress to other stages of altitude sickness if left untreated. AMS gives you nausea, muscle aches and a headache which is pretty unpleasant even when you’re not hiking up a mountain.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is another form of altitude sickness in which fluid builds up in the lungs, resulting in a very dangerous and potentially life-threatening illness. If this is left untreated, you can progress to High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which is where fluid builds up in the brain. HACE is the most serious of the three – and luckily the rarest too.
How to stay safe when trekking high
It is clear, then, that altitude sickness can get serious quickly. And so, you should make it your personal responsibility to be aware of the symptoms and potential treatments of altitude sickness – it’s important for any trekker, novice, or pro.
As we said earlier, prevention is better than treatment. To prevent altitude sickness, you must take a few things into account.
When trekking, make sure you stop regularly on your ascent so that you get time to breathe and familiarise yourself with the heights you’re at. You should also make sure to rest as soon as you start to feel a headache coming on or get nauseous.
We’d also recommend drinking a lot of water along your trek and every night sleep below the highest point you trekked to so you can get acclimatised while you sleep.
What to do if you have symptoms of altitude sickness
In order to stay safe while trekking, if you have the symptoms of altitude sickness, you must first inform members of your group. Most importantly, you should inform your guide who will be able to take the next steps.
If your sickness is not at the point where it is dangerous, you should still have enough time to rest and take it easy. So, the sooner you tell your guide the better because you have more of a chance of completing the trek.
However, if the sickness is unbearable and getting pretty nasty, it is vital that you are taken down to a lower level where you can get access to more oxygen and get back to your usual self. If you wait at a lower level for 24 to 48 hours and your symptoms do not improve, you will need to go right to the bottom again and seek medical help immediately before your sickness gets even worse.
In terms of the medicines available to treat altitude sickness, it’s advisable that you are given some ibuprofen and plenty of liquids to keep you hydrated. You should also keep warm and wrap yourself in a blanket while you recuperate. Make sure to avoid any sleeping medications too.
We wish you the best of luck!