Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness, also called altitude illness, hypobaropathy, and altitude bends, is the sickness that occurs due to the rapid exposure to low amount of oxygen at high elevation.

Symptoms

Headache, vomiting, feeling tired, trouble sleeping, dizziness (feeling a giddiness, foolishness, or impairment in spatial perception and stability)

Usual onset: within 24 hours

Types:

  1. Acute mountain sickness(AMS)
  2. High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE)
  3. High altitude cerebral edema (HACE)
  4. Chronic mountain sickness(CMS)
  5. Acute mountain sickness

Most often, high altitude sickness occurs when one is above 2500 meters (8000 ft.) although some are affected at lower altitude, which is known as acute mountain sickness (AMS).

Prevention

  • Gradually increasing elevation by no more than 3000m/day
  • Descending to a lower altitude
  • Sufficient fluids

Treatment

  • Using ibuprofen, acetazolamide or dexamethasone in a mild case
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Portable hyperbaric bag

High altitude pulmonary edema

High altitude pulmonary edema is a life threatening form of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema defined as the fluid accumulation in the lungs. It occurs to people at any altitude above 2500m or even between 1500-2500 meters (4900-8200 feet) in more vulnerable people.

Symptoms

Shortness of breath at rest, coughing, weakness or decreased physical performance, chest tightness or congestion, rapid breathing and rapid heart rate.

Prevention

  • Not increasing the elevation which you sleep by more than 500 meters (1600 feet) a day
  • Include a rest day in every 3-4 days of trekking

Treatment

  • Descend to a lower altitude as quickly as possible
  • Warming techniques, rest and supplementary oxygen should be applied.
  • Use nifidipine as medication.

High altitude cerebral edema (HACE)

HACE is a sickness in which the brain swells with fluid because of physiological effects of trekking to a high altitude.

Symptoms

Confusion, loss of consciousness, fever, ataxia, photophobia, rapid heartbeat, lassitude (tiredness) and an altered mental state.

Prevention

  • Ascending gradually with frequent rest days while climbing or trekking

Treatment

  • Using acetazolamide as medication
  • Providing supplemental oxygen

Chronic mountain sickness (CMS)

CMS is a disease in which the proportion of blood volume that is occupied by red blood cells increases and abnormal levels of oxygen become low in blood cells. This occurs after extended time living at high altitude (2500 meters).

Symptoms

Headache, dizziness, breathlessness, sleep disturbance, palpitation and loss of appetite, fatigue, confusion, cyanosis and dilation of vein.

Treatment

  • Medication with acetazolamide or carbonic anhydrase inhibitor
  • Oxygen therapy and training in slow breathing techniques to increase blood oxygenation