Altitude sickness happens when one cannot get enough oxygen from the air when in high altitudes. It causes headaches, difficulty in sleeping and loss of appetite. It happens to people who are not used to high altitudes that go quickly from lower altitudes to higher altitudes such as 8,000 feet or higher. Altitude sickness is also known as acute mountain sickness.
Air is “thinner” at high altitudes and when going too high and too fast, the body will not get plenty of oxygen that it needs, so there is a need to breath faster. This causes headaches and other symptoms of altitude sickness and as the body gets used to the altitude, the symptoms disappear.
Symptoms of altitude sickness
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling tired and weak where the individual lacks energy to eat, dress up or do anything
- A throbbing headache that worsens at night and upon waking up in the morning.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Waking up during night time and not sleeping well.
The symptoms of altitude sickness can be mild to severe and it feels like having a hangover. If altitude sickness affects the lungs and brain, the person will experience confusion, difficulty in walking straight or also known as ataxia, feeling faint and blue, gray lips and fingernails. When breathing, there is a sound similar to a paper bag being crumpled. Remember that these can be considered as severe symptoms.
Treatment and home remedies
- For mild symptoms of altitude sickness, the individual should stay at his/her current altitude and check if his/her body will adjust and if it gets worse, descend to a lower altitude.
- For severe symptoms, the individual should be taken 1,500 to 2,000 feet down with minimal exertion until the symptoms are gone.
- Even if the symptoms are mild, the individual should avoid moving up to a higher altitude until the symptoms completely subsides.
- Treat the symptoms by administering oxygen, if available. Make the individual warm and allow him/her to rest, provide plenty of fluids especially water and provide him/her with acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve the headache.
As for mild symptoms that do not disappear after several days even at lower altitude, it is best to seek medical help. For the severe symptoms, even if they disappeared after a descent, seek medical care immediately. If you want to be prepared to manage the symptoms, click here.
Preventing altitude sickness
Whether planning a trip up the Himalayas or warming up for snowboarding in the Rockies, it is important to be prepared for diarrhea and altitude sickness. High altitudes can cause stress on the body and reduce the oxygen level, thus producing the weakening effects.
- Observe for symptoms of altitude sickness
- Seek medical care if there are life-threatening symptoms such as pulmonary edema, swelling of the brain or cerebral edema.
- Drink plenty of fluids in order to avoid