Altitude sickness also referred to be high sickness or an acute mountain sickness, is an illness that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers or travelers at high altitude primarily above 2,400 m. It is caused due to a combination of reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes. The faster you climb to a high altitude, the more likely you will get such acute mountain sickness. Your symptoms will depend on the speed of your climb and how hard you push yourself.
Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening and can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart. In most cases, the symptoms are mild. Symptoms generally are associated with mild to moderate acute mountain sickness include: difficulty sleeping, dizziness or light-headedness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, rapid pulse (heart rate), shortness of breath with exertion. The symptoms generally are associated with more severe acute mountain sickness include: bluish discoloration of the skin, chest tightness or congestion, cough, coughing up blood, decreased consciousness, gray or pale complexion, inability to walk in a straight line among others.
Early diagnosis is important. An acute mountain sickness is easier to treat in the early stages. The main treatment for all forms of mountain sickness is to descend down or walk down to lower altitude, as rapidly and safely as possible. You should not continue climbing if you develop symptoms. Extra oxygen should be given, if available. People with severe mountain sickness may need to be admitted to a hospital. The complications sometimes cause coma, fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), swelling of the brain, severe breathing problems, coughing up blood among others.
One of the ways to prevent altitude sickness are, climb the mountain gradually, stop for a day or two for acclimatization at every 600 m. above 2,400 m, sleep at a lower altitude when possible, learn how to recognize early symptoms of mountain sickness, if you are traveling above 3,000 m. you should carry enough oxygen for several days. While climbing up to the high altitude, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, eat regular meals, high in carbohydrates and most importantly you should avoid high altitudes if you have heart or lung disease.
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