Treating & Avoiding Altitude Sickness Symptoms

March 26, 2012

Whether visiting family or going on an outdoor family vacation, there’s plenty of reasons to visit a higher altitude. But those visits come with the risk of altitude sickness, and without proper care and intervention, a trip can promptly be ruined.

In the Himalayas, altitude sickness symptoms haven’t always been fully understood. Travellers who got sick would likely be told something they ate at the previous village was poisoned—every village thought every other village was full of psychopathic poisoners!

Today we better understand the cause and mechanism of altitude sickness symptoms: as you travel to higher altitudes, you’re entering a part of the atmosphere that has less oxygen, and your body starts furiously pumping blood to your brain in an attempt to compensate. People who live at higher altitudes, like the people who live in the Himalayas (or here in Denver even) produce more red blood cells on average, and are able to get oxygen to the brain without pumping more blood to it. Visitors, on the other hand, can be at risk for altitude sickness.

Catch altitude sickness symptoms early—they can lead to life-threatening complications! If you’re staying in the mountains, your hotel probably has a nurse on staff who can supply oxygen and alleviate mild altitude sickness symptoms, as well as help assess whether the symptoms require a trip to the hospital.

Altitude Sickness Symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/Vomiting

Severe Altitude Sickness Symptoms:

  • Brain Swelling

To Prevent Altitude Sickness Symptoms:

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water. Dehydration can quickly exacerbate altitude sickness symptoms.
  • Try ibuprofen as soon as you start out for a higher altitude—a new study found that ibuprofen reduced the number of people who suffered from altitude sickness symptoms.
  • If you’re planning on engaging in mountain sports: skiing, hiking, etc.; give yourself time to adjust to the higher altitude first—wait a day after arriving.
  • Prescription meds are available to treat altitude sickness symptoms, but they aren’t fast acting and can have equally bad side-effects. Talk to a doctor about your risks, and assess whether you want to have them with you when you travel.

Finally, keep an eye on anyone over 60 who’s travelling to a higher altitude. Altitude sickness may be more likely to affect them.

Share your thoughts: anyone know any good, natural tricks for preventing or alleviating altitude sickness?

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