HOW TO PREVENT ALTITUDE SICKNESS WHILE HIKING AT ELEVATION
Are you planning to travel to high altitudes? These are our top tips for avoiding altitude sickness when hiking and traveling. How to prevent and treat altitude sickness.
It’s possible you have already experienced this: dizziness and shortness of breath, nausea, and headaches at high altitudes. These annoying symptoms can make it difficult to ski, hinder hikes, and can even be dangerous. How can you avoid altitude sickness and make sure you have a great adventure?
This is the question I had to ask myself as I was preparing to go on my Everest Basecamp Trek, which would take place at 18,500 feet. I was able to learn that there are ways to lower the severity and symptoms of altitude sickness with some planning and good preparation.
We can’t guarantee any cures for the “altitooties”, but we will share our top tips to prevent altitude sickness when you’re on a high-altitude adventure.
What Is Altitude Sickness?
Let’s first understand what altitude sickness means and how it happens. Altitude illness is when the body does not have enough time to adapt to lower oxygen intake at higher altitudes.
Thin air is a term that describes how you feel when you are at higher elevations. It refers to the decrease in density as the air gets heavier. Air pressure decreases with altitude, which causes a drop in the concentration of gas molecules within the atmosphere. The air is thinner (i.e., contains fewer gas molecules), which means it is dense. Because the air molecules are smaller, it is easier for your lungs and lungs to take in more oxygen with each breath.
Hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) can lead to symptoms such as dizziness and fatigue.
Higher elevations can lead to more severe mental and physical symptoms.
Who Is At Risk For Altitude Sickness?
Everyone. The short answer to this question is yes. Although it’s rare, you can still feel the effects of altitude illness.
It is also important to mention that altitude illness can affect people in different ways and affect the same person differently on different trips.
Some people are not able to adjust well to high altitudes. They can be able to do all the right things, such as stay hydrated and take rest, but still experience headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
When Are You at Risk for Altitude Sickness?
Three types of altitudes are available in which adventurers may experience symptoms and difficulties from altitude sickness.
- High Altitude 8,000-12,000 feet
- Very High Altitude: 12,000-18,000 feet (To provide some context, the summit of Mt. Whitney is at 14,505 feet. Everest Basecamp, 17,600 feet em>
- Extremely high altitude: 18,000+ ft. Kilimanjaro can be found at 19,341 feet. Denali can be found at 20,310 feet.
Altitude Sickness Symptoms
Altitude sickness can cause a variety of mental and physiological symptoms. These symptoms are more common the higher you climb.
- Breathing difficulty
- Rapid heart rate
- Mental fog
- Lack of appetite
- Sleepiness or difficulty sleeping
- Reduced urination
These are the most common symptoms of altitude illness. Your body is trying to adjust to the new elevation.
Altitude sickness can be experienced in different ways. Some people may experience it quickly, while others may only feel some symptoms. Be patient, take it slow, pay attention to your body, and don’t rush up.
You should let your hiking and travel companions know if you have symptoms of altitude sickness so that they can monitor you. If symptoms persist or become more severe within 24 hours, it is a sign to be concerned. This can cause serious illness and even death.
Avoid thin air if you have heart or lung conditions or are pregnant. Talk to your doctor before you start.
How to Prevent Altitude Sickness
Planning ahead and scheduling rest periods is the best way to get up to speed quickly if you plan to go on a backpacking, skiing, or hiking trip to mountains at high elevations.
It is better to prevent altitude sickness rather than to treat it.
Altitude sickness can only be prevented by taking your time. Your body will need to adapt to higher altitudes with less oxygen if you climb higher. If you don’t give your body a few days to adjust to these conditions, the symptoms will get worse.
Your body will begin to adjust to high altitude after 12-24 hours. It is important to allow your body to adjust for a few days before you begin any strenuous activity such as skiing, hiking, or snowboarding. Even though the trek is only 50 miles, most people hike Everest Basecamp for nine days.
There are other ways to avoid altitude sickness.
- Avoid flying to high-altitude destinations if you can. Instead, take a slow, steady pace to get there by walking, driving, or using public transport.
- Get used to exercising and hiking at higher altitudes by training at altitude prior to your trip.
- Plan your vacation by including rest days. It is a good rule of thumb to have a rest day every three to four days.
- Before you engage in any strenuous activity, ensure that you have at least 24 hours.
- Do not consume alcohol.
- Consume lots of carbohydrates to get more energy while you adjust.
- HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE!
Remedies and Medicine to Help Altitude Sickness
There are some remedies that you can use to ease the symptoms of altitude sickness if you have taken the necessary steps to prevent it.
- Over-the-counter pain medications like Advil, Tylenol, and Aspirin can be helpful in reducing headaches.
- To stay hydrated, add electrolytes to your water. We love Salt Stick tablets and Nuun tablets.
- To help reduce symptoms, the Altitude Research Center recommends taking the herbal supplement Gingko Biloba.
- Diamox is a medication that prevents severe altitude sickness. Talk to your doctor if you’re really worried. Diamox must be taken at least three days before you go to altitude.
If symptoms persist or worsen for more than two days, consult a doctor. Sometimes, it is necessary to descend to lower elevations to relieve symptoms.