The Risks Of Going Up
How To Treat Altitude Sickness
Imagine you are on your way to the vacation of your dreams. You fly to the ski resort that you have been looking forward to for months. You get off the plane, hit the ski lifts, and climb to dizzying heights. All of a sudden, your losing your balance, have a splitting headache, and are at risk of tossing your lunch down the mountain.
You have just developed a serious case of altitude sickness, or as some call it, mountain sickness. You are at risk of getting it anytime you go at least a mile high, 5280 feet above sea level. Fortunately there is an instant (or not so instant depending on how fast you can travel) cure for it: Just go down!
Anyone can get altitude sickness, from couch potatoes to highly trained athletes. And the faster you go up, the worse its likely to be. Scientists don't quite know why this happens, but they do have a guess: The air is thinner at high altitudes, which means that there is less oxygen for you to breath than at lower heights. Without enough oxygen, your body can't function as efficiently as it normally does, so your body tries to compensate by forcing you to breath faster, which makes you expel a lot more carbon dioxide.
At about 8000 feet, more dangerous things start to happen. Fluid starts to leak out of your blood vessels and into the tissues surrounding your capillaries. Your face, hands and feet might start to look puffy and swell. In the most dangerous cases, fluid might get into the lungs, which can prevent you from breathing. Also, the brain may begin to swell, an extremely dangerous condition called cerebral edema. These are the symptoms you should look out for:
Mild Altitude Sickness
- Swelling of hands and feet
Severe Altitude Sickness
- Shortness of breath
- Labored breathing
- Coughing up blood
- Confusion and Anxiety
- Rapid pulse
- Extreme fatigue
- Inability to walk in a straight line
If you experience any severe symptoms, immediately call for help and start descending.
Treatment and Prevention
The Ultimate Cure: Going Down
The only real remedy to cure this annoying little condition is to descend. Altitude sickness can almost instantly be remedied by going down just a few thousand feet. But what if you can't leave those lofty heights behind? There are a few things you should do.
Drink Up When Going Up
The second best thing that you can do while ascending the mountain tops is to drink lots of water. Being fully hydrated will help your body function at its peak efficiency, so it won't try to overcompensate from the lack of oxygen. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they are diuretics and will cause you to get dehydrated. Water, juice, and hot chocolate are great choices when enjoying those wonderful mountain views.
Acclimation Is Your Friend
The very best thing that you can do while you are up there is also the easiest: Just take it easy! Any extraneous activity prior to properly acclimatizing can bring on the symptoms of altitude sickness pretty quickly. Seriously, just kick up your heels for a few hours (or days if your really up there) and let your body get used to the altitude. This is what climbers do when trying to climb Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. They have base camps at certain altitudes where climbers must stay and rest for a period of time before they can go any higher. So take some advice from the pros. Grab a nice hot cocoa, enjoy those great mountain views, and let your body get used to the thin air before finally hitting the slopes!