Altitude Sickness

IN THIS ARTICLE:

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness is known for its different names such as Acosta disease, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Soroche, hypobaropathy or puna. Altitude sickness is a disorder that occurs when the person who is traveling on high elevation such as the mountains with great speed within 2500 meters (8, 0000 feet). There is an oxygen level decrease as he/she ascends with great speed that it didn’t let the body to adjust to the oxygen level. Even the healthiest person with no history of having any disorder is not exempted in acquiring Altitude Sickness episodes.


Symptoms

Mild symptoms that occur in Acute Mountain Sickness, or Altitude Sickness within the first 2,000 meters which causes common symptoms such as:

  1. Headache
  2. Nausea and Vomiting
  3. Body malaise
  4. Nosebleed or Epistaxis
  5. Dizziness and drowsiness
  6. Insomnia
  7. Appetite loss
  8. Dizziness
  9. Swelling of the upper and lower extremities (peripheral edema)
  10. Rapid pulse
  11. Diarrhea or stomach upset

These symptoms above serve as warning signs that the person has the risk to develop severe symptoms of high altitude cerebral and pulmonary edema:

  1. Severe headache
  2. Confusion and Disorientation
  3. Hallucination
  4. Unstable gait and body coordination
  5. Fainting and Unconsciousness
  6. Fever
  7. Shortness of Breath
  8. Persistent cough with pinkish frothy sputum
  9. Paleness of the skin
  10. Comatose

Causes

What causes the person to have altitude sickness? When the person ascended in a rapid pace and stayed on a place where there is low oxygen level, the person will manifest different signs and symptoms affecting the cognition and coordination that can be fatal and deadly to the person. How do you know that the place has less oxygen compared to the normal sea level? It is known that the higher the place is, the less the air pressure in the area. It is a fact that the oxygen level in sea level areas is around 21% and as the person goes up, about 5,500 meters, the oxygen level in the air is reduced to half. The human body isn’t that capable to adjust quickly in low levels of oxygen because primarily, the oxygen is one of the vital components of air to keep the body functioning, alive and healthy. In Altitude Sickness, the increase in altitudes has effect on person’s fluids: it leaks out of the blood vessels which accumulate to spaces where it is not allowed such as the lungs and the brain. Once it is not attended properly and did not descend the mountains, the person is risking himself to have a serious complication of the Altitude Sickness, or worst, death.

Diagnosis

Altitude Sickness is confirmed and diagnose if the person who climbed an altitude of more than 2, 500 feet and manifested one of the mild symptoms of the Altitude Sickness, it is accurate that the person is having the illness.

If the person still experiences the symptoms, the person must undergo diagnostic exams such as Complete Blood Count, Chest X-Ray, and Urinalysis to rule out possible illnesses of hypothermia or flu (because it has the same symptoms as the Altitude Sickness). In addition to that, Chest X-Ray can confirm the presence of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and CT-Scan or Magnetic Resonance Imagery for High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

Treatment

Descending

The best way to treat the Altitude sickness is remove the cause: the increase in altitude with low levels of oxygen. The person must descend in order to meet the levels of oxygen in a specific lower altitude, or if not possible, the person must stay on the place and rest.

Rest and doses of pure Oxygen

It is important for the person to rest to let the body adjust to the level of the altitude and the oxygen in the area and avoid doing any physical activities that will increase the demand for oxygen. If the symptoms persist, the person must descend 300 more meters and intake of prescribed medicines to alleviate the symptoms. In addition to that, it is also important to have an adequate supply of oxygen for the body so having an oxygen tank during such situation will help.


Gamow bag

This can be used, if the person has this in possession, when the descent is impossible. This Gamow bag is an implatable bag with chambers that is large enough to fit one person inside. It is primarily used to aid the patients with severe symptoms.

More importantly, the person must NOT IGNORE THE ALTITUDE SICKNESS SYMPTOMS.

Remedies

Acetazolamide

This is a medication that can be taken during the ascending to the mountains and that will help the person to adjust the ascending altitude and descending levels of oxygen. Its main mechanism is that it prevents and lessens the occurrence of the Altitude Sickness Symptoms and it corrects the chemical imbalance caused by the Altitude sickness in the blood.

Dexamethasone

It is a steroid hormone which is its main mechanism is to suppress the immune system and inflammation. This is a medication that remedies the cerebral edema caused by Altitude Sickness. It reduces the inflammation and swelling of the brain. It is reported that the medication takes effect and reduces the cerebral edema after six hours (approximately).

Pain killers

These medications such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are taken for symptoms relief like headache and fever.

Prevention

A person must be prepared before ascending a mountain and take note of the following points that will prevent to acquire Altitude Sickness:

altitude illness pictures

  1. Start and ascend GRADUALLY AND SLOWLY – to avoid shocking the body of low levels of oxygen and have the body adjust to the decreasing level of oxygen at high places (Altitude Acclimatization).
  2. Take rest and limit physical activities – to decrease the body’s demand for oxygen
  3. Limit climbing of 3, 000 feet per day.
  4. Hydration – One must take adequate fluids to keep the body hydrated. Avoid alcohol because it causes dehydration. Take at least four to six liters of water every day.
  5. Sleep low – Never sleep on places higher (no more than 300 meters) than you slept the night before.

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