How To Treat Altitude Sickness - 5 Ways
It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete, adventurer or traveler—if you’re going to be exposed to high altitudes, there’s a chance you may experience high altitude sickness. What are the signs you’re dealing with high altitude sickness and what can you do to alleviate those symptoms? First, let’s explore exactly what you’re up against if this affliction affects you.
What is High Altitude Sickness?
If you’re at a high altitude and unable to pull enough oxygen from the air for your body to function properly, you’ll experience the throes of high altitude sickness. It doesn’t happen to everyone when they visit higher altitudes, but if you’re susceptible, altitude sickness occurs at 8,000 ft or more above sea level. This condition may also be referred to as acute altitude sickness.
High Altitude Sickness can lead to a life threatening form of altitude sickness called high altitude cerebral edema. It’s rare, but high altitude cerebral edema usually occurs one-to-three days after reaching 9,800 feet or above when the brain’s capillary veins leak, causing fluid buildup and brain swelling. High altitude pulmonary edema is a similar condition caused when the capillaries in the lungs leak, creating fluid buildup. This is uncommon, but can occur at or above 8,200 feet—putting it in line with high altitude sickness. Both high altitude sickness and high altitude pulmonary edema can occur at the same time.
High altitude sickness is the most common of the three and is a precursor to high altitude cerebral edema, so it’s important to know its signs. Keep in mind that symptoms can range from mild to severe and may not begin until some time is spent at high altitudes.
What Are the Signs of High Altitude Sickness?
If you’ve just arrived at a new destination but your feeling of excitement has turned into you feeling weak or tired, you may be experiencing the onset of high altitude sickness. Symptoms can progress to the point that you lack energy to complete basic functions like getting dressed or eating. Combine this with high altitude sickness’ ability to mess with your sleep pattern, and you’ll have a hard time functioning at full capacity.
A headache caused by high altitude sickness is usually of the throbbing variety and is at its worst when you first wake up in the morning or stay up into the night. You may also feel a sense of confusion or be unable to walk straight.
Shortness of Breath
As you ascend upward, the air becomes “thinner,” or the number of oxygen molecules present becomes less than your body’s used to. This can cause shortness of breath—if your breathing begins to sound like a crumpling paper bag, that means the condition is becoming severe.
The higher altitudes may leave you feeling sick to your stomach. It’s possible you may even vomit. In addition to the upset stomach, high altitude sickness can leave you without your appetite, making it a chore to replenish any nutrients lost due to stomach issues or natural nutrient consumption.
This symptom usually means the victim is suffering from high altitude cerebral edema and should immediately receive medical treatment. These hallucinations can be visual or auditory and the hallucinator may insist nothing is wrong. Hallucinations or a lack of perspective on situational severity should indicate the need for treatment.
Five Ways to Treat High Altitude Sickness
If someone is showing symptoms of high altitude cerebral edema, they should immediately be taken to a lower altitude and medical professionals should be contacted. However, for high altitude sickness, just descending to the last elevation slept at without experiencing symptoms can set things right—usually in a day.
Anything from aspirin or acetaminophen for headaches to remedies for nausea can help relieve some of the symptoms of high altitude sickness. There’s also a prescription medicine called acetazolamide that’s prescribed to prevent and treat high altitude sickness.
There isn’t one easy way to prepare for high altitude sickness, but this option can be available through some planning ahead. Having oxygen on hand in high altitude areas could be as easy as asking a doctor to call in a prescription. Administering the oxygen can be done at any time, but since symptoms tend to pop up at night and in the morning, receiving the treatment while sleeping may be the best option.
There’s a reason high altitude sickness feels like a hangover—the lack of oxygen can leave the body in a debilitated state, and consuming alcohol, smoking or participating in strenuous activity while experiencing symptoms can compound the problem.
Proper hydration helps the body move oxygen through the bloodstream easily, and a healthy dose of electrolytes assists the brain with communications that direct the oxygen where it’s needed most.
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High altitude sickness can progress from light and manageable to severe and life threatening, so it’s best to prepare your body for the journey. Gain elevation gradually if possible, watch for symptoms and lend yourself an assist by staying hydrated. Help provide your body with electrolytes that can help your body use oxygen efficiently–substitute a sports drink with DripDrop. Each option in the multi-flavor pouch includes three times the electrolytes of a sports drink. Subscribe and save 25% while receiving regular deliveries of helpful electrolytes.