Who doesn’t like to travel? Travelling is something that opens your soul to new experiences, expands your horizon, and helps you to live life on your terms. But what if suddenly, while on a trek or some remote village, you happen to face high altitude sickness. There is no doctor around, and the nearest help is too far to be approached.
That can somehow ruin your trip! Or even worse it can have an impact on your future ones.
Travel has to be backed by solid research at your level. You don’t have to keep your search limited to just How to reach the place, itinerary, accommodation, and getting around the place. But you should also prepare yourselves for any eventuality by learning more about how to stay fit while travelling, travel insurances, etc.
In this article, we present to you ten common high altitude sickness that affects travellers that you can easily prevent by following precautions. Medications and Management plans have also been mentioned, although you must consult a registered medical practitioner before starting any treatment.
Also Read: Hiking and Backpacking Tips
Acute Mountain Sickness
What is acute mountain sickness?
It is a type of condition, (note that the term disease has not been used here) caused due to a lack of oxygen availability at high altitudes caused mainly due to low atmospheric pressure. This is the most common high altitude sickness in mountains.
An altitude above 2500 feet is considered to have the capability to cause altitude sickness. However, this number isn’t definitive. Different people peculiarly respond to a disease. This is called the rule of idiosyncrasy. So is the case with Acute mountain sickness as well. Some people might start experiencing the symptoms at an altitude even lesser than this.
It would be best if you kept in mind that different people have different threshold levels. Some people can experience Acute mountain sickness at a much less altitude as compared to others. Altitude sickness can happen to anyone irrespective of your level of fitness, age, gender, or other parameters. However, acclimatization to higher altitudes is important.
- Edema (Swelling) in hands, feet, or face
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Anorexia: Loss of appetite
- Gastrointestinal: Excessive flatulence(gas)
- Tachycardia: Increase in the heartbeat of more than 90 beats per minute or more
- Shortness and difficulty in breathing
- Epistaxis (Nose Bleeding)
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Characteristic “pins and needles pain.”
- Life-Threatening Complications: Pulmonary Edema( Excess fluid-filled in lungs)
- Cerebral Edema: Excess fluid accumulation in the brain causing increased pressure in the brain (increased intracranial pressure)
General precautions :
- Keeping yourself completely hydrated and avoiding the intake of alcohol for at least the first 48 hours of ascent.
- Coca is quite effective in preventing altitude sickness
- Keep your carbohydrate intake in your diet high as they are the source of instant energy.
- Take at least 8 hours of sleep or more.
- Acclimatization treks: This is a form of the trek where your ascend to a higher altitude from your base camp, rest there for a while and return to sleep at your basecamp.
Medications to treat Acute Mountain Sickness
The standard medicine Diamox (Acetazolamide) is a diuretic(causes increased frequency and production of urine).
It is mainly an inhibitor of the enzyme carbonic anhydrase. This drug causes an accumulation of carbonic acid and causes your blood to become more acidic. This, in turn, causes better oxygenation due to an increase in the frequency and depth of your respiratory rate.
For prophylaxis take 125 mg Diamox orally, two times a day. For treatment, purposes take 250 mg twice daily till your symptoms subside. It is best to take every medication only on the advice of a registered medical practitioner. Every drug can have side effects and may not suit everyone. So is the case with Diamox. It might cause a tingling sensation in the hands, feet, and face in some cases.
Other options are Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory drugs, commonly referred to as NSAIDs. These are over the counter drugs and do not need a prescription. Examples include Paracetamol and Ibuprofen. These medications can be used for relieving a variety of symptoms which include headaches, chills, fever, and body pains.
Steroids such as Dexamethasone should be used only in extreme complications such as Pulmonary Edema or Cerebral Edema.
Natural/Home remedies to treat Acute Mountain Sickness Lime juice, Ginger, Garlic, Clove, Coca, etc.
High Altitude Pulmonary Embolism(HAPE)
It is a severe complication of Acute mountain sickness, which causes a build-up of fluid in your lungs.
- Shortness of breath
- Fast Breathing
- Fast Heart Rate
- Chest Congestion
- Slow descent to low altitude
- Not faster than 500 metres a day
- Stay hydrated and
- seek medical attention if condition worsens even on descending
Acetazolamide and Dexamethasone (recommended)
High Altitude Cerebral Edema(HACE)
High altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is a relatively severe complication of Acute mountain sickness. On not receiving treatment, some people may die within 48 hours. People experiencing symptoms of this condition should take prompt action and descend to a lower altitude without further delay; otherwise, coma and death may ensue.
Symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema
- Symptoms mimic as that of moderate to severe forms of acute mountain sickness
- Loss of consciousness
- Increased Heart Rate
- Loss of coordination and balance
- Alteration in an emotional state
- Photophobia (Fear of light)
Management Plan for High Altitude Cerebral Edema
Travellers should not take High Altitude Cerebral Edema lightly at all. The first step to managing High Altitude Cerebral Edema is the descent to lower altitudes to increase the chances of increasing morbidity and even mortality due to this disease.
The second step should be seeking medical help. You should probably be taking Dexamethasone under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner. It is advisable to maintain an oxygen saturation of 90 percent or more.
HACE takes a decent amount of time to subside even on seeking prompt medical treatment and can prove fatal if no help is sought.
Do you get enchanted by the mere sight of a waterfall or a brook running down the mountains? Do you get tempted to drink the Himalayan fresh,chlorine-free water? If you do, I must warn you to stop this habit.
Travellers diarrhoea is a common problem causing loose stools, abdominal cramp, nausea, vomiting and occasionally fever in travellers. It is due to the microorganisms present in the water to which the traveller is not immune.
Precautions to prevent Travellers’ Diarrhoea
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid drinking water from waterfalls, streams, brooks, ponds etc.
- Drink only packaged drinking water.
- Avoid eating unhygienic food
- Wash your hands frequently
- Maintain a proper electrolyte balance by taking the right food.
Medicines that can help you control Travellers’ Diarrhoea
The first thing that you need to keep in mind that diarrhea causes an excessive amount of water loss. The Fatigue and subsequent worsening of the condition are not due to diarrhea alone but mainly due to dehydration and improper electrolyte balance.
But it would be best if you keep in mind that only rehydration won’t help. You will need to regain the lost electrolytes in your body.
You can do this by drinking Oral Rehydration Solution(ORS). Medicines that can help include Metronidazole, Tinidazole, Loperamide, Ornidazole, Ofloxacin, etc.
The sun at high altitude is more harmful to your skin. It has comparatively more U.V rays as compared to the plain. Tanning and Sunburn are the common problems; one can encounter while on a trek or travelling in the mountains.
- Try not to expose much of your skin to the sun.
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 40 or more.
- Drink plenty of water
- Moisturize your skin often.
Treatments that can help treat Sunburn.
- Levocitrazine for allergy
We all know the extreme damage cold can do to our body. One of the most common amongst them is Frostbite. Frostbite is due to extreme cold, the skin of hands, feet, ear, or nose can become red, cold, and dry. Sometimes there may be the formation of a blister.
It is something which you surely shouldn’t take lightly. Sometimes when the blood supply is restricted, it can lead to ischemia and can even need amputation of the affected part.
Symptoms of Frostbite
- Pain(the characteristic pins and needles pain)
- Throbbing or dull aching pain
- Redness in the early stages
- Becomes white and numb in later stages of Frostbite
- Blister formation
- The skin turns Black in severe cases, and the affected area may need to be removed based on the degree of damage.
Precautions to prevent Frostbite from getting worse
- Try to get away from the hostile conditions that caused it in the first place
- Remove anything that could constrict the blood supply be it hard clothing, bands, watches, etc. for proper circulation.
- Warm the affected area with lukewarm water.
- Do not directly heat the affected part as it can cause more damage than benefit.
Hypoxia in High Altitudes Sickness
Hypoxia is the state when your brain cannot get enough oxygen. It can manifest in a variety of forms and can differ in various forms in different people. Hypoxia is indeed fatal if left untreated as it is a known fact that with an increase in altitude, the atmospheric pressure decreases and so do the oxygen levels.
- Slurring of speech
- Altered Decision-making capabilities
- Immediate oxygen is required.
- It is a medical emergency, and professional medical intervention is a must.
The Khumbu Cough
The Khumbu cough, also known as the high altitude hack, is a cough caused by the low humidity and temperatures associated with high altitudes.
- Extreme Fatigue has shown to be both the cause and symptom of Khumbu Cough. Some people believe that it is because of extreme exertion that one starts experiencing Khumbu cough.
- The Khumbu cough is generally dry and is sometimes even accompanied by white phlegm.
- A running nose is also a symptom of Khumbu Cough.
- Drink as much warm water as possible which would help keep your respiratory tract lining moist.
- Wearing a mask would help as well.
- Avoid over-exerting yourselves and take an adequate amount of rest.
Sore Feet and Blisters
Sore feet and blisters are mainly formed due to improper fitting of shoes, dirty socks, or wet and sweaty feet. Blisters are mainly formed due to increased friction between your shoe and your feet.
A blister is generally filled with fluid and provides a cushion effect to your skin. However, it can be excruciating if left untreated.
Precautions to prevent Sore feet and Blisters
- Wear shoes which are comfortable, soft and fit correctly.
- Do not immediately hop into your new shoes for a trek.
- Make your shoes immune to your new shoes so that they no longer hurt and are comfortable to wear.
- Wear clean and dry socks.
- Apply a foot moisturiser before wearing your shoes and socks.
- Don’t break the blister.
Medications that can help deal with Sore feet and Blisters.
Antibacterial ointments like Neosporin can help you prevent further deterioration and infection.
Snow blindness which in medical terminology is referred to as Photokeratitis. Photo means light and keratitis is the inflammation of the cornea. Though the term snow blindness does not typically means what it sounds like. You can become snow blind even without snow. Snow blindness is caused mainly due to U.V rays.
Symptoms of Snow Blindness
- Severe burning pain in eyes
- Red watery eyes
- A sensation that something like sand is there in your eyes
- Blurry vision
- Swollen eyelids
Precautions to prevent Snow Blindness
- Wear completely covered sunglasses.
- Remove contact lenses if you’re wearing them.
- Keep your eyes moisturized.
- Do not rub your eyes frequently.
Medications that can help with Snow Blindness
Carboxymethylcellulose eye drops help to moisten the eyes, thereby helping with sun blindness. It is recommended to visit an ophthalmologist to chart out the best possible treatment for sun blindness.