Altitude sickness is a potentially serious condition that can occur above 2400m (8000ft).
The fact is, the higher you go, the thinner the oxygen becomes. At 5500m (18000ft), there is half the oxygen available that there is at sea level.
Symptoms, which vary from extremely mild to severe, occur when our body is not adapting well to the altitude change. Anyone is potentially at risk: young or old, man or woman, fit or not.
These symptoms may disappear once acclimatisation occurs or may worsen, necessitating a descent to lower altitudes.
But don’t worry! We have some very good tips that will minimise your risk of experiencing altitude sickness!
1 – Climb slowly
Ascending slowly is essential to allow your body to adjust. Avoid flying or driving directly to high altitudes.
When possible, avoid sleeping more than 500m(1600ft) above the altitude you slept at the previous day and spend a rest day acclimatising every 900m (3000ft) you go higher.
2 – Eat well
Eat a light but high calorie diet. Chocolate, fruits and a high carbohydrate diet, including pasta, rice, bread and potatoes, are good options while trekking. Avoid any excess salt, which may cause dehydration.
Dal Bhat, the ubiquitous rice and lentils, Chow Mein noodles, potato soups and Snickers bars can be found at every altitude and are excellent choices.
Guides and porters will also suggest you have plenty of garlic soups. Although it’s not proven that garlic has a positive effect on altitude sickness, this soup is delicious, will keep you warm and will increase your intake of fluids so, why not give it a try?
Beware of a possible loss of appetite at high altitude and make sure you keep eating well regardless.
3 – Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated is essential to prevent altitude sickness. Drink regularly during your climb and possibly a minimum of 5ltr of water per day.
It will probably be harder to drink that amount of water at higher elevations, where temperatures (and water!) are colder and your lower perspiration will make you feel hydrated in any case. Try and stick to five liters per day. You can order warm water (tato pani) at lodges to make it easier.
4 – Avoid alcohol
Do not drink any alcohol while trekking. Alcohol is a depressant and can slow down your breathing rate and cause dehydration.
5 – Climb high, sleep low
Altitude sickness usually gets worse at night when you’re sleeping. It’s a good idea to hike higher during the day and then return to a lower altitude to sleep.
This may include a short acclimatisation hike in the afternoon from your overnight location.
6 – Get rest
Climb at a pace that’s comfortable for you. Don’t try to go too fast or make any effort that seems too strenuous.
Also remember that long international flights can make you tired and dehydrated, which increases your risk of experiencing altitude sickness. So, before starting your trek, plan a day or two of rest.
7 – Recognise and respond to warning signs
Altitude sickness symptoms include difficulty sleeping, dizziness, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, rapid pulse and shortness of breath at rest.
Learn to recognize the early symptoms and remember that, if you feel unwell, you have altitude sickness until proven otherwise.
If you have any symptoms, do not climb further. For mild symptoms only, you can try and stay at the same altitude and see if they subside, but never ascend and sleep at a new altitude with any symptoms of altitude sickness.
Go higher up only when symptoms have disappeared completely.
If your symptoms are severe, they do not improve after one day, or they are getting worse, you need to descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.
No matter how much you wanted to reach that final destination, remember that your safety comes first!
By following these tips, you will greatly increase your chances of staying healthy throughout your trek, but remember: everybody reacts differently to altitude! So pay close attention to how you feel and always share any concerns with your guide!
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