Anyone can be affected when faced with high altitudes – there are no rules to who it affects, but commonly most people will experience symptoms when they venture above 8,000 feet. So, if you are planning to go mountaineering, skiing, or even just to visit a town which is at high altitude, it’s important to be prepared. Following a few tips can help you to acclimatise a little easier and find your time at altitude altogether more enjoyable.
So what is altitude sickness? It’s also known as acute mountain sickness or hypobaropathy. It occurs when we go up to high altitude, and the partial pressure of oxygen decreases. In layman’s terms, the amount of oxygen we can take in from each breath decreases, and so our blood becomes less saturated with oxygen. This causes the common symptoms of altitude sickness, such as headaches, dizziness, weakness and drowsiness. Whilst usually safe if controlled, altitude sickness can develop into more serious conditions which can be fatal. Therefore it is very important that you know how to acclimatise more quickly and be able to recognise the symptoms if you do develop altitude sickness.
There are 5 tips to help you acclimatise more easily to high altitudes.
1. Know where you’re going
May seem like a simple one, but if you don’t realise you’re travelling to high altitude you won’t have prepared at all, and it will hit you like a ton of bricks. This will most probably apply to people travelling to holiday destinations who haven’t checked out such details. For example, Mexico City is at an altitude of around 7000ft, enough to induce symptoms in some. Do your research and plan ahead.
2. Keep well hydrated
This means lots of water and very little or no alcohol! It’s much easier to get dehydrated at altitude and dehydration induces similar symptoms to altitude sickness. Always keep a bottle of water with you and sip throughout the day.
3. Take it slow
Most mountaineers go through a process of acclimatisation where they gradually go up in altitude, spending a few days to get used to the increased altitude and lower air pressure. This can apply to everyone, whether you’re at altitude for holidays or sport. Don’t run up a mountain in your first day. Take it easy, and take your time, and if you start to experience symptoms try to go to a lower altitude.
4. Keep eating
Altitude sickness can cause a loss of appetite, and so you may sometimes forget to eat. Your body needs all the energy it can get when it is running low on oxygen, and so not eating will exacerbate symptoms. High energy, long lasting foods like carbohydrates are best, such as pasta, but the main thing is that you are eating something.
If all else fails, turn to pharmaceuticals. Acetazolamide is an altitude sickness medication, although be aware that its usefulness is debated. Some recommend taking an analgesic such as Ibuprofen or Aspirin to help with headaches. Some also suggest Gingko for relief from symptoms. Also remember the pharmaceuticals that are not recommendable to take whilst at altitude. Sleeping can be difficult at high altitude, but taking sleeping pills is not a good idea as it can make you more susceptible to the symptoms of altitude sickness. Any narcotic drugs are not advised, as they can decrease your breathing, something which is already compromised at high altitude.
So, in conclusion, remember to take it easy, eat and drink regularly and medicate if necessary and acclimatisation should be easy enough. Most people will be used to altitude within a day or two. Remember to have someone with you in case you run into trouble and if you still experience symptoms after a few days or get worse, contact a doctor.