Altitude sickness

Many people will experience the effects of high altitude. Take precautions to avoid altitude sickness if you are prone to it. Be sure to try a hot tea or an infusion of coca leaves on arrival at altitude. During your first day move slowly and eat lightly, resting the first couple of hours.

Travel to high altitudes is generally not recommended for those with a history of heart disease, lung disease, or sickle cell disease.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – Mild symptoms will occur in most people traveling over 10,000 feet, these include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite, indigestion

These symptoms typically begin immediately after arrival and tend to worsen at night.  Mild AMS does not interfere with normal activity and symptoms generally subside within 2-4 days as the body acclimatizes.  As long as symptoms are mild, and only a nuisance, ascent can continue at a moderate rate.

HAPE – High altitude pulmonary edema is caused by fluid buildup in the lungs.  Symptoms include:

  • Irritating cough (can produce frothy, often blood-tinged sputum)
  • Mental confusion, staggering drunken walk
  • Quick shallow breathing, difficulty breathing
  • Exhaustion
  • Gurgling noise in chest, chest pain
  • Debilitating headache and severe fatigue
  • Disruption of vision, bladder, and bowel functions
  • Loss of coordination of trunk muscles (unable to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line)

HACE – High altitude cerebral edema is caused by fluid buildup in the brain. Symptoms include:

  • Staggered gait (unable to walk heel-to-toe in a straight line)
  • Severe weakness/fatigue, drowsiness
  • Impaired mental processing, confusion, changes in behavior
  • Headache
  • Decreasing levels of consciousness (loss of memory, hallucinations, psychotic behavior, and coma)
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Blindness
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis of a limb
  • Seizures

If symptoms of HACE or HAPE occur, immediate descent (even at night) is required as these conditions can be fatal.  Often times victims are confused and may deny their illness, it is imperative to report any symptoms you are feeling to your group and look out for others.

  • Stay hydrated-drink 4-6 liters of water per day
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and other depressant drugs (including sleeping pills)
  • Avoid diuretics such as coffee and tea
  • Don’t go up until symptoms go down
  • Talk to you doctor about DIAMOX
  • Eat high-carbohydrate foods while avoiding fatty foods
  • Listen to your body!