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Altitude sickness

Travel Guide Travel Health Altitude sickness

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Introduction

Kilimanjaro Summit

Kilimanjaro Summit

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Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition caused by ascending to high altitudes, usually above 2,500 metres above sea level (8,000 feet), though most people won't notice severe problems below 3,000 to 3,500 metres. Most people have some effects from altitude, and suffer mildly from AMS. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Insomnia

More serious cases can progress into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

High Altitude Pulmonary Edeama (HAPE)

High altitude pulmonary edeama (HAPE) is a condition that occasionally happens to individuals ascending to higher altitudes, especially above 2,500 metres. Pulmonary edeama is excess fluid in the lungs, either in the lung tissue itself or in the space normally used for gas exchange (oxygen for carbon dioxide). Fluid in the lungs renders them unable to perform their normal task, and thus the victim cannot get enough oxygen. HAPE can occur suddenly. Do not underestimate its seriousness, it is deadly.

High Altitude Cerebral Edeama (HACE)

High Altitude Cerebral Edeam (HACE) is a condition where the brain swells. Major pressure is felt in the eyes and severe headache, worse than a migraine. Seek medical attention immediately, if left untreated coma and death will occur.

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Prevention

The drug Diamox also can help with the effects of altitude sickness. You can either take it as a preventative measure starting a couple days before climbing, or with the onset of symptoms.

Coca tea consumption is common in many South American countries. Many indigenous tribes of the Andes mountain range also use the tea for medicinal and religious purposes. The consumption of Coca tea, as well as chewing the leaves, increases the absorption of oxygen in blood, which helps combat altitude sickness.

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Symptoms and Treatment

AMS Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Insomnia

HAPE Symptoms

Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, weakness, easy fatigue (especially when walking uphill), and difficulty sleeping. If you place an ear to the victim's chest, you may hear crackling or gurgling noises. The symptoms worsen at night. Confusion, collapse, and coma follow. The victim may show a fever of up to 101.3 °F. Without descent, the prognosis can be as severe as death.

HACE Symptoms

Symptoms include headache, fatigue, visual impairment, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, loss of coordination, paralysis on one side of the body, and confusion.

Treatments

The only sure cure for any altitude sickness is descent. The drug Diamox also can help with the effects of altitude sickness. You can either take as a preventative measure starting a couple days before climbing, or with the onset of symptoms.

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This is version 11. Last edited at 13:46 on Jul 30, 10 by Utrecht. 10 articles link to this page.

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