Altitude Sickness

Sometimes people get sick at high altitudes, such as in the mountains. This is called mountain sickness or high-altitude sickness. Contrary to common belief there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with susceptibility to altitude sickness. Some people get it and some people don’t, and some people are more susceptible than others. Lack of oxygen causes high-altitude sickness. As altitude increases, the air becomes “thinner,” which means less oxygen is in the atmosphere. You get less oxygen in your lungs with each breath, so the amount of oxygen in your blood declines. All people can experience mountain sickness, but it may be more severe in people who have heart or lung problems. Symptoms usually begin within 48 hours of arriving at high altitude. The higher the altitude, the greater the effects. People can notice effects when they go to an altitude of 2.500 to 3.000 meter. If you have heart disease (such as heart failure) or lung disease (such as emphysema), you may have symptoms at lower altitudes.

Symptoms include: Headaches, breathlessness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, inability to sleep, swelling of the face, hands and feet.

Both heart rate and breathing rate increase as the body tries to send more oxygen to its tissues. At very high altitudes, body fluid can leak into the brain (called brain or cerebral edema) or into the lungs (pulmonary edema). Both these conditions can be serious or even life-threatening.

Here are some tips:

  • Give your body time to adjust to the altitude.
  • Avoid strenuous activity for the first day or two.
  • Keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and sleeping pills.
  • Eat high-carbohydrate foods (such as pasta, potatoes and bread).
  • Drink coca tea or chew coca leaves

If you have a heart or lung condition, consult your physician before going to high altitude. He or she can tell you whether your condition will let your body adjust to the lower oxygen in the atmosphere.