Also known as "mountain sickness", occurs when your body cannot compensate for the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. It occurs most often when quickly changing from low altitudes to high altitudes. For instance, driving up a tall mountain can induce headaches and make you feel fatigued. Although, most people often experience acute altitude sickness which alleviates after returning to a normal altitude, people can also experience more severe forms such as high-altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema.
Symptoms of altitude sickness are similar to that of holding your breath; you may experience headaches, fatigue and even insomnia. However, if your body cannot get accustomed to the lower amounts of oxygen in the atmosphere, you can experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, and cerebral edema. Cerebral edema occurs when your brain is not receiving enough oxygen and can usually be presented through symptoms such as confusion, or severe headaches. If experiencing any of these symptoms, it means that your body is not getting enough oxygen and cannot deliver necessary amounts to your vital organs. Overtime, if not taken care of, it may lead to coma or even death.
Who is at risk of altitude sickness?
The chances of getting altitude sickness are equal in males and females and do not change depending on your fitness level. Altitude sickness often develops at elevations higher than 8,000 feet or if the ascent exceeds a rate of 1,000 feet a day. Therefore, you have an increased chance if you are flying somewhere or going to altitudes your body is not used to. Furthermore, if you enjoy scuba diving it is best to plan ahead so that your dive is not a day before your flight leaves as this greatly increases your chances of getting altitude sickness or even developing a more serious condition called the bends.
Treatments and home remedies
If you are experiencing any symptoms of altitude sickness, descending to lower altitudes can alleviate many of your symptoms without the need of medical attention. You can take Tylenol to get rid of the headaches, but it is unsafe to take any sleeping pills if experiencing insomnia as it can further suppress your breathing. If descent to a lower altitude is not possible, the use of a hyperbaric chamber or a Gamow bag may be necessary until you can descend to a lower level. On the other hand, if you know you are going to be experiencing large changes in altitude, you can take Acetazolamide which is used to prevent the symptoms of altitude sickness.