Sometimes visitors who normally live at lower altitudes experience altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS). The symptoms of high altitude sickness sometime resemble the flu or a hangover and often manifest themselves six to ten hours after ascent and generally subside in one to two days.
The higher you climb above sea level, the less oxygen there is in the air. This can cause a problem with some folks whose bodies aren’t used to working on so little oxygen. If you stay at a high altitude for a week or more, your body gets used to the lower levels and functions properly.
The most common cause of altitude sickness is ascending elevation too rapidly and can usually be prevented by ascending slower. How high you go, the amount of physical activity performed at high altitude, as well as individual susceptibility are also contributing factors to the onset and severity of high-altitude illness.
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.
Take your time traveling to higher altitudes. When you travel to a high altitude, your body will begin adjusting right away to the lower amount of oxygen in the air, but it takes several days for your body to adjust completely. The closer you live to sea level, the more time your body will need to get used to a high altitude.
First 24 Hours at High Altitude:
1. eat lightly
2. avoid alcohol
3. keep exercise to a minimum
4. drink plenty of fluids
5. rest and relax at 6,500 to 8,000 ft., if possible, before ascending slowly to higher altitude
Get a good nights sleep at an altitude that is lower than the altitude you were at during the day. For example, if you ski at an elevation of 10,000 feet during the day, sleep the night before and the night after at an elevation of 8,500 feet.
Some of the signs of high-altitude illness are:
• shortness of breath
• fatigue or weakness
• trouble sleeping
• rapid pulse
• upset stomach
• pins and needles feeling
If you have these symptoms stop going up or go back down to a lower altitude until your symptoms go away. More severe symptoms include difficulty breathing even while you’re resting, coughing, confusion and the inability to walk in a straight line. If you get these symptoms, go to a lower altitude right away and get help from a doctor.
The best treatment for high-altitude illness is to go down to a lower altitude right away. But if you only have mild symptoms you might decide to wait it out until your body adjusts. If you do this, don’t exercise at all – just rest until you feel better.
If you have severe symptoms, go down 1,500 to 2,000 feet right away to see if your symptoms get better. Keep going down until your symptoms go away completely and seek medical attention.
Don’t ignore signs of high-altitude illness. People can die of this if they don’t recognize the signs or if they don’t believe their illness is caused by the high altitude. When you have signs of high-altitude illness, don’t go higher until you feel better and your symptoms have gone away completely.
The folk remedy from Ecuador and Peru in the Andes Mountains is coca tea, or mate de coca, made from the leaves of the coca plant, it is said to soothe the stomach and headache.
Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and American Heart Association (AHA)