If you were lucky to travel to a high altitude destination – the Rocky Mountains, the Swiss Alps, Machu Picchu – you may also have the misfortune to have suffered from altitude sickness. 19659002] Altitude sickness, also called mountain sickness, is a term that encompasses three different states occurring at high altitudes.
One can imagine the Earth's atmosphere as an air ceiling, the height of which is measured from the sea level and rises from there. Jan Stepanek MD, MPH, chair of the Aerospace Medicine Program, director of the Altitude & Oyster Medicine Clinic and co-director of the Aerospace Medicine & Vestibular Research Laboratory of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, reported SELF.
Your body gets used to the altitude that you normally hold in this atmosphere – where you live most of the time. When you go to higher altitudes, the amount of atmosphere that presses on you from above and the oxygen content of the air decreases. These types of changes can cause symptoms of altitude sickness, which are actually a term for three different syndromes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These conditions include a range of severity levels.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the mildest and most common form of altitude sickness.
There is no exact initial altitude at which AMS symptoms can occur, but the CDC notes that around 25 percent of visitors to Colorado who sleep to over 8,000 feet are present with signs of this disease are. (Colorado is a high state in more ways than one; its average altitude of 6,800 feet above sea level is the highest altitude in the US.) However, Stepanek points out that the symptoms may occur at lower altitudes than that.
The symptoms of AMS include primarily headache, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, dizziness, and respiratory distress, according to the US National Library of Medicine . Typically, the headache occurs within two to twelve hours after arriving at a higher level. Other symptoms follow. Signs of this condition are usually maintained for only 12 to 48 hours according to the CDC . "[Acute mountain sickness] occurs in many people and will not normally cause serious problems if you do not continue to rise," says Dr. Stepanek.
Experts are not fully aware of what causes AMS, but the most commonly accepted theory focuses on how quickly your survey affects your brain. "There are changes in blood flow in the brain when [you] goes up, and in some people this may increase the swelling of brain tissue," says Dr. Stepanek.
Fortunately, the mild symptoms associated with AMS are usually not a concern. According to the CDC you can descend 1,000 feet to alleviate symptoms that appear, or you can stay safe and treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medications such as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug headaches or anti-nausea medications.
You may also find relief through the prescription drugs acetazolamide a compound that helps your body get used to the thinner atmosphere by promoting more efficient breathing . Specialist in Emergency Medicine Benjamin Honigman Professor, emeritus professor and researcher at the Center for the Research of Harshness at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, reports the SELF. "It deceives the body to think that you have to breathe faster and harder because it affects the acidity of the blood," he explains. Another drug that could help is dexamethasone, says the CDC a corticosteroid that will rapidly reduce the brain swelling involved here. If you are not sure how your body will handle higher altitudes, it may be advisable to see a doctor before you travel to get these medicines. By the way, it is a total myth that it can be young and fit to make you immune to these physiological changes, says Drs. Stepanek. Believing in that much can actually be a certain risk factor for altitude sickness, as people are more likely to cross their physical boundaries if they think they are not vulnerable. "The most dangerous thing in the mountains is self-confidence, independence from fitness, and thinking that nothing bad can happen," explains Dr. Stepanek.
AMS may progress to a potentially life-threatening condition known as high-grade cerebral edema (HACE).
HACE is triggered by the same brain swelling on a heavier level. "It's starting to affect the brain's circulatory capacity, and you're having problems with the normal functioning of the brain," explains Dr. Stepanek.
A tell-tale symptom that differentiates HACE from AMS is ataxia or loss of balance, Dr. Stepanek. Other symptoms include intense fatigue and confusion. With continued brain swelling, it is possible to lose consciousness and possibly even die. As the CDC of 1945943 states, this can happen within 24 hours after the onset of ataxia, if a person does not reach a lower altitude quickly enough.
Treatment means lowering ASAP into thicker areas of higher pressure The atmosphere in which you should feel better on your own, and seek immediate medical help, says Dr. Ing. Stepanek. You may be treated with oxygen and possibly a drug like dexamethasone, which can help even at high altitudes if you can not get off.
There is also a high-grade pulmonary edema (HAPE), another potentially life-threatening form of altitude sickness. It can occur alone or together with AMS and HACE.
HAPE appears to happen when excess fluid accumulates in the air sacs of the lungs and causes respiratory distress, as described in the Mayo Clinic . "The normally well-distributed flow of blood into the lungs begins to become very uneven, causing higher pressure in certain areas of the pulmonary arteries than in others." This leads to fluid accumulation in your air bags, Dr. Stepanek. It's an awkward cycle because as these air sacs fill up, your ability to oxygenate your blood decreases, resulting in even greater oxygen deficiency.
All this leads to remarkable HAPE symptoms such as headache and excessive respiratory distress during physical exertion according to the CDC . "Anyone at altitude will be a little bit breathless because there is less oxygen and you are active, and maybe you are carrying a backpack," says Dr. Stepanek. However, this shortness of breath can quickly become serious and affect you in peace. Other symptoms include increased heart rate, palpitations fever, fatigue, chest pain and a cough that may produce a foamy, bloody mucus after the Mayo Clinic . Without treatment, this condition can kill even faster than HACE, says the CDC of 1945 .
The treatment involves – you guessed it – immediate lowering with as little effort as possible. If this is not possible, treatment with supplemental oxygen may be sufficient, says the CDC (19459057) along with medications such as nifedipine which affects the calcium in your body to increase your access to blood and oxygen Improving
The best way to reduce the likelihood of altitude sickness is to give your body as much time as possible before you move up or exercise.
The steeper the elevation, the more dramatic is the adaptation your body has to go through. Someone who lives at sea level and flies to 8,000 feet gets more sick than someone who lives at 7,000 feet and flies to the same destination, or someone who lives at sea level and drives a few country roads to his destination for days.
Other factors may be involved in your tendency to develop altitude sickness. It may well be influenced by a familial or genetic predisposition, says dr. Honigman. But these factors are not well understood – and of course beyond your control. What you have under your control: Do your best to gradually acclimatize.
The CDC advises against going from a low altitude to over 9,000 feet in one day. Instead, they recommend spending a few days at a distance of 8,000 to 9,000 feet before climbing higher. Then increase your sleep height by no more than 1,600 feet per day and give yourself one day to adjust to every 3,300 feet of ascent.
Obviously this can be difficult. "Not everyone has the … luxury, just a few extra days or weeks to take extra vacations," says dr. Stepanek.
If that's the case, it's best for you. The CDC recommends that you stay light during the first 48 hours of your journey and not drink alcohol at this time. (Alcohol can make you pee more, which contributes to possible dehydration, and it also shares symptoms such as a loss of balance with more serious forms of altitude sickness, which may make it more difficult to detect the disease.)
If you are definite pull back does not feel good "Stay hydrated, rest and make sure you do not over-exert yourself," says dr. Stepanek. "Be aware of how you feel, and if you do not feel good, do not hit it."
Medications such as acetazolamide, dexamethasone, and nifedipine may prevent symptoms of altitude sickness in addition to their treatment, says CDC . So if you're interested, it's definitely worth talking to your doctor about it.
If you have heart or lung disease, you may be at higher risk of developing altitude sickness. Be careful (and with medical advice).
"If you have certain heart or lung diseases, your chances of mismating are worse, you need to be more careful," says Dr. Honigman. These include obstructive sleep apnea (when your pharyngeal muscles relax and stop breathing when you sleep) and angina (chest pain due to decreased blood flow to the heart). CDC .
In addition, oxygen deficiency at higher altitudes can aggravate these conditions, even if well managed at sea level.
If you have any health problems that affect your heart or lungs – or if you do not, but you travel high and are nervous about how to handle them – first ask your doctor. You will be able to explain how high altitudes affect you, and you can prescribe medications or give tips to help you make the most of your journey.