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Altitude sickness usually occurs when an individual moves higher than 500 miles in a day and occurs regardless of personal fitness level. Typically, altitude sickness happens because the body ascends too quickly, meaning the body does not have enough time to adjust to the reduction of oxygen and the changes in surrounding air pressure. Altitude sickness can lead to two potentially deadly conditions: high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). This article will be a hiker’s guide to recognizing, preventing, and treating altitude sickness to avoid these issues.
How To Prevent Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is one of the most common challenges mountain climbers face, and knowing how to prevent it can ensure you get through your hike safely. Luckily, preventing altitude sickness is easy. The first step is to avoid going above 1,500 vertical feet in a day, and when you have time to rest, go back down a few feet. This becomes critical when at altitudes of 10,000 feet or above. You’ll also want to ensure you’re eating as many carbs as possible—go for candy bars if you have to—and drink no less than five liters of water daily.
How To Recognize Altitude Sickness
One of the best ways to prevent altitude sickness is to listen to your body, but if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you must listen to what your body needs and possibly start descending. You know what your body can handle and how it typically reacts to exercise, so if you’re noticing an unusual amount of fatigue and shortness of breath, these can be your first few symptoms. You’ll also experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, and a loss of appetite—like a nasty hangover.
How To Treat Altitude Sickness
When treating altitude sickness, you can use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms, but this will not get rid of altitude sickness. If you’re starting to feel the symptoms mentioned, and they’re not severe, you can try staying at the elevation you’re at for a day or two, but do not continue until your symptoms have entirely dissipated. However, if you’re starting to vomit, not eat, or you have a searing headache, begin descent immediately, as, at this stage, this is the only way to treat altitude sickness. It is in your best interest to go to a hospital so they can treat you with supplemental oxygen and make sure that your condition does not worsen.
Knowing how to prevent altitude sickness can save your life and the lives of others. So, remember to always listen to your body and never push yourself beyond what you feel comfortable doing just to finish your hike faster.