Changing time zones knocks people, add the stress of winding up at work and many people arrive feeling slammed, needing a holiday. This is the time you are most likely to get sick; try to take it easy, and definitely take multi-vitamin tablets. If travelling from America the flights are particularly long with annoying stopovers and a brutal time change; we recommend arriving a day earlier to recover. For India if the trek begins in Leh then fly up there one day earlier.
It's okay to get altitude illness, but it's not okay to die from altitude illness. Trekking in the Himalayas brings people to high altitude for longer periods of time than in most other situations, and the risk of dying from altitude sickness is consequently higher in this region. Trekking in Himalayas affords the opportunity to acclimatize gradually.
Human bodies have built-in adjustment mechanisms that can optimize performance at altitudes. This process is known as acclimatization. The power of acclimatization can be demonstrated by the following examples. If a person were transported suddenly to the summit of Mt.Everest (29,128 feet; 8848 mts.), person would lose consciousness in a few minutes, and most likely die within an hour or two due to acute hypoxia. However, over 60 people have climbed to the summit of Mt.Everest without using supplemental oxygen after acclimatization for many weeks. This fact demonstrates how profound the process of acclimatization can be.
Commonly called altitude sickness, this has the potential to affect all trekkers from 2500m and higher. Your body needs days to adjust to smaller quantities of oxygen in the air - at 5500m/18,044ft the air pressure is approximately half that of sea level, ie there is half the amount of oxygen (and nitrogen).
For treks below an altitude of about 3000m/10,000ft it is not normally a problem. AMS is caused by going up high too fast and can be fatal if all the warning signals are ignored. Note that it is not the actual altitude, but the speed at which you reach higher altitudes which causes the problems.
Altitude sickness is preventable. Go up slowly, giving your body enough time to adjust. These are the 'safe' rates for the majority of trekkers: spend 2-3 nights between 2000m/6562ft and 3000m/10,000ft before going higher. From 3000m sleep an average of 300m/1000ft higher each night with a rest day every 900-1000m/3000ft. Ultimately it is up to you to recognise the symptoms, and only ascend if you are relatively symptom-free.
Don't expect to feel perfect at altitudes of more than 3000m. These are the normal altitude symptoms that you should expect BUT NOT worry about. Every trekker will experience some or all of these, no matter how slowly they ascend.
Periods of sleeplessness
The need for more sleep than normal, often 10 hours or more
Occasional loss of appetite
Vivid, wild dreams at around 2500-3800m in altitude
Unexpected momentary shortness of breath, day and night
Periodic breathing that wakes you occasionally - consider taking Diamox
The need to rest/catch your breath frequently while trekking, especially above 4000m
Your nose turning into a full-time snot factory
You only need to get one of the symptoms to be getting altitude sickness, not all of them.
Headache - common among trekkers. Often a headache comes on during the evening and nearly always worsens during the night. Raising your head and shoulders while trying to sleep sometimes offers partial relief. If it is bad you may want to try taking a painkiller: aspirin (dispirin), paracetamol, Ibuprofen (Aduil) or acetamenophen (tylenol). Never take sleeping tablets. You could also take Diamox: see below. Headaches arise from many causes, for example, dehydration, but if you develop a headache assume it is from the altitude.
Nausea (feeling sick) - can occur without other symptoms, but often nausea will develop with a bad headache. If you are better in the morning take a rest day, or if you still feel bad descend.
Dizziness (mild) - if this occurs while walking, stop out of the sun and have a rest and drink. Stay at the closest teahouse.
Lack of appetite or generally feeling bad - common at altitude due to too rapid an ascent.
Painful cough or a dry raspy cough.
In other words anything other than diarrhoea or a sore throat could be altitude sickness. Assume it is, because if you have a headache from dehydration, ascending further is not dangerous, but if its due to AMS, the consequences could be very serious. You cannot tell the difference, so caution is the safest course.
Do not try to deceive yourself and accept that you body needs more time to adapt.
Persistent, severe headache.
Ataxia - loss of co-ordination, cannot walk in a straight line, looks drunk
Losing consciousness - cannot stay awake or understand things very well
Liquid sounds in the lungs
Very persistent cough
Real difficulty breathing
Rapid breathing or feeling breathless at rest
Coughing blood or pink goo or lots of clear fluid
Marked blueness of face and lips
High resting heart beat - over 120 beats per minute
Severe lethargy and drowsiness
Mild symptoms rapidly getting worse
Ataxia is the single most important sign for recognising the progression from mild to severe. This is easily tested by trying to walking a straight line, heel to toe. Compare with somebody who has no symptoms. 24 hours after the onset of ataxia a coma is possible, followed by death, unless you descend.
Take as far down as possible, even if it is during the night. (In the Everest region: if you are above Pheriche, go down to the HRA post there. From Thorung Phedi or nearby: take to the Manang HRA post.) The patient must be supported by several people or carried by a porter - his/her condition may get worse before getting better. Later the patient must rest and see a doctor. People with severe symptoms may not be able to think for themselves and may say they feel OK. They are not.
This comes on suddenly and severely, usually from both ends - vomiting and diarrhoea. It happens about 4 to 8 hours after eating the contaminated food. Luckily it usually lasts less than 24 hours and recovery is quick, although you may feel weakened. There are no drugs that can help - the body just has to eject all the contaminated food and rid itself of the poison. Rest and, once the first severe bout or two is over, drink plenty of fluids. Oral rehydration solutions are helpful.
While trekking lower down in the valleys it is hot and you sweat a lot so it is important to replace the fluids you lose. At altitude the problem is worse, you are still sweating and the air is dry and thin meaning you must breathe a lot harder. With every breath you breath out water vapour. It is very important then to drink a lot. Dehydration make you feel tired and lethargic and can give you a headache. The symptoms are similar to AMS so the easiest way to avoid confusion is to always keep hydrated.
The basic rules are; drink as much and as often as you like, (that does not include alcohol!) even if it seems like a lot. This can include soups and lots of tea, but even with a lot of liquid food, you should drink a lot of water too. Many people find that with dinner they often drink more than a litre of water, catching up on what they should have drunk during the day. A great guideline is the expression: A happy mountaineer always pees clear!
The easiest way to check that you are not becoming dehydrated is to look at your urine; if it is very yellow or orange you should drink more, but if it is almost clear then you have been looking after yourself well. Using this as a guideline some trekkers find that, although they don't feel thirsty, their urine is definitely yellow. This means drink more, even if you have to consciously think about it.
Since you spend most of your time walking, blisters are really worth avoiding. First use boots that have been worn in if possible. Test your boots by carrying a pack up and down hills - along level ground there is far less stress on your feet.
Normally you can feel a blister developing - some rubbing, or a hot spot, or a localised pain. Stop and investigate, even if it occurs during the first 5 minutes, or just in sight of the top of the hill; immediate action is best. The trick is to detect the symptoms before the blister develops. Put tape on or investigate what may causing the problem.
Blister Treatment - If you develop a blister then there are several approaches. If it is not painful then perhaps surround it (not cover it) with some light padding, eg moleskin, and see how it feels. If it is painful and causing problems then pierce it - clean the skin and sterilise the needle; holding the needle slightly above a candle or match flame for a second or two is effective. Do not cut away the blister skin until after a few days when it is dried out and no more use for protecting the delicate skin underneath. You can put protective tape over the top with some cotton wool to protect the blister, and some people even put the tape straight over the blister, with no protection.
If you have had a previous history of blisters or think that you are likely to get them take preventative action first! Use moleskin, a strong waterproof zinc-oxide tape or similar, and tape up troublesome areas first. Tape before you take your first step and be religious about checking, and replacing, the tape.
Today's story is re-printed from Health Central by blogger Rick Frea
How do high altitutes affect people with asthma?
So what is the effect on high altitudes on asthma? If I board an airplane, will this make my asthma worse? What if you climb to the top of a mountain?
These are common questions I've had to answer over the years. In fact, when I traveled to Denver in 1985 to stay at the asthma hospital -- Denver is a mile high -- this was one of the questions my parents asked.
If high altitudes affect your asthma, it's due to one of the following:
- Air is cooler and drier at higher altitudes. As I noted in this post, cool and dry air has in increased tendency to trigger asthma.
- The higher up you go the less oxygen there is in the air you breathe, this results in less oxygen getting to your lungs. If your lungs are already compromised, and the oxygen in your blood is already low, going UP may cause you to feel especially winded.
If your asthma is controlled, you should have no trouble coping with higher altitudes. However, if you have uncontrolled asthma, or if you have severe asthma, you might have some trouble.
The folks with the most trouble coping are those with severe, persistent asthma, or your prototypical hardluck asthmatic. The reason is because due to bad asthma, these folks might already have a lower level of oxygen in their blood.
When these hardluckers board a plane, or climb a mountain, they might start to feel winded before other folks do. With a lower level of oxygen in their blood, and now inhaling less oxygen than at sea level, you can see how they might quickly get winded.
This is also true of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients. If you want to learn more about the details of why this happens, I explain it in this post about why COPD patients may experience dyspnea in flights.
An interesting twist here is that while doing my research I found many studies that actually show higher altitudes may benefit asthmatics by improving lung function and reducing the need for asthma controller medicines.
The reason is believed to have something to do with a reduction of t-helper and b-helper cells that cause inflammation (swelling) in your airways. With less swelling your lungs are less responsive to your asthma triggers, and you'll require less controller medicine.
Likewise, this 2001 study shows children who live in higher altitudes were less likely to have asthma and when they did it was less severe.
Now these are just a few isolated studies, yet it's still interesting to think about.
If you have hardluck asthma you might want to talk to airline officials about making plans to help you during flight. Yet the rest of us asthmatics should be able to cope to higher altitudes quite well.