Higher Elevation Means Less Oxygen- 10 Tips To Reduce Risk of Altitude Sickness

Every avid mountain climber and trekker is acutely aware that the higher they climb the less oxygen there is and the chance of getting altitude sickness increases. On my Mt. Everest trekking trip my number one concern was not that my lungs begged for oxygen with every step I took or that my sleeping bag was not up to the challenge of -30˚ night temperatures. It was getting altitude sickness. I was fortunate to only experience a mild, yet persistent headache at 19,000 feet and none of the more severe symptoms.

Although much of the specific biological reasons for AMS remain a mystery, here are 10 tips for reducing the risk of altitude sickness:

• Take It Easy– Do not overexert yourself when you first get up to altitude. Because respiration decreases during sleep, aggravating the symptoms, it is better to do some light activity like walking during the day rather than sleeping.

• Drink Like A Camel– Drink at least 4 to 6 liters of water a day because acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss.

• A Slow, Steady Ascent– The more you exert yourself, the harder it is to breath at high altitudes so it is best to get into a steady rhythm of climbing.

• Climb High, Sleep Low– If you go above 10,000 feet, only increase your altitude by 1,000 feet per day. For every 3,000 feet of elevation gained take a rest day to acclimatise

• Eat Like A Horse– Eat a high calorie diet while at altitude.  This is easier said than done, as your appetite isn’t typically that strong at altitude.  Although you may feel like passing on a meal, force yourself to eat as you are metabolizing faster the higher you go.

• Watch For The Symptom Signs– Do not go higher until symptoms decrease.

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid pulse, drowsiness, swelling of hands, feet and face

• Get Treatment For Severe Symptoms– Both High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) can occur at altitudes above 9,000 feet. Symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Continuous dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Unsteady walking
  • Increased vomiting
  • Gradual loss of consciousness
  • Desire to sleep far too long

• No Drugs Or Alcohol– Depressants like sleeping pills, tranquillizers and alcohol worsen altitude sickness symptoms by decreasing the respiratory drive further while sleeping.

• No Two Are Alike– Every one acclimatizes at a different rate so therefore everyone in the climbing group should be properly acclimatised before going any higher.

• The #1 Rule– If the symptoms ASCEND, then you DESCEND!

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