Altitude sickness

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness occurs when the lungs cannot extract enough oxygen from the air due to the high altitude. This causes the appearance of certain complaints such as headaches, loss of appetite, as well as sleep problems.

The most common condition is observed in people whose lungs are not adapted to the rarefied air, climbing for a short time to high altitudes above 2450 meters above sea level.

Mild altitude sickness is common. Medical professionals are not sure which people are predisposed to this condition. Gender and physical endurance are irrelevant.

Altitude sickness can also be dangerous. You should be careful and take precautions if:

  • You are planning to go to high altitude places or camping for example in Rila or Pirin.
  • You have plans for an exotic excursion or trip to high altitude countries such as Peru, Ecuador or Nepal.

Altitude sickness is also called mountain sickness.

What causes altitude sickness?

The air is thinner when you climb to a high altitude and the concentration of oxygen molecules is significantly less than at sea level. When you ascend too quickly to a high altitude, your lung function becomes limited and your body begins to suffer from not having enough oxygen. Once the lungs adapt to the rarefied air, the symptoms subside.

What are the symptoms?

  • Headache that is usually throbbing. It increases at night and in the morning on waking.
  • Sensation of irritation in the stomach and accompanied with this nausea. Vomiting is also possible.
  • The affected person does not feel well when eating;
  • Feeling of weakness and laziness. In more severe cases, the affected person does not even have the strength to eat, dress or do anything at all.
  • Feeling dizzy;
  • Frequent awakenings at night and restless sleep.
  • >

Symptoms can be completely harmless, but they can also be very serious, even life-threatening. They can occur immediately after you ascend to a high altitude, or they can be very mild at first and you don’t notice them at all. Many people report that acute mountain sickness is like a severe hangover.

The disease can affect the lungs and brain. When this happens, the characteristic symptoms are confusion, the inability of the affected person to move in an upright position – ataxia, a feeling of weakness, as well as bluing or graying of the nails and lips.

Altitude Sickness Treatment

The best treatment is to descend to a lower altitude. But if you have mild symptoms, you can stay at that altitude and let your lungs adjust to it.

If you stay at high altitude, rest. You can walk and explore the area, but more calmly. Limit your walking and other activities. Drink plenty of water, but never alcohol. Do not go to a higher altitude until your symptoms are gone. This can take anywhere from 12 hours to 3-4 days.

For headaches, you can take medicines such as ibuprofen, naproxen or paracetamol. You can use medicines to suppress nausea and vomiting.

Some doctors prescribe acetazolamide, which helps the body adapt to low oxygen in the air. Nifedipine and dexamethasone are also used for altitude sickness.

Descend to a lower altitude of 450 meters if you have more severe symptoms that respond to medication and supplemental oxygen.

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