Individuals who engage in active vacations should take into consideration measures to prevent altitude illness. If an individual trains at low altitude and plans to engage in activity at areas with high altitude, there are vital concerns to bear in mind.
Diminished level of oxygen
When moving from sea level to an area with high altitude, expect the air pressure to reduce and the ability to take in oxygen is reduced as well. Due to the strain on getting oxygen to the lungs, the body compensates by increasing the heart rate as well as the breathing rate.
Dehydration is another factor that reduces performance and causes altitude illness. The low level of humidity and increased breathing rate leads to loss of moisture with each exhalation. Even a minimal loss of fluid can cause a decrease in the overall performance of the individual.
Symptoms such as mild dizziness, headache, insomnia, nausea and irritability can indicate dehydration. Once the individual is thirsty, he/she should hydrate properly. Do not drink alcohol and caffeine since these are diuretics that can worsen dehydration.
It is important to note that the summer in the mountains might not be cooler than at low areas. Heat-related conditions include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat stroke is considered as a medical emergency and can develop abruptly without warning. Once the initial indications of heat exhaustion manifest, instruct the individual to stop any activity and cool his/her body.
As for heat cramps, it causes painful muscle spasms accompanied by dizziness or weakness. The symptoms typically develop after several hours of exertion and when sodium is depleted. The replacement of lost electrolytes and fluids is the ideal treatment.
Exposure to the sun
Prolonged sun exposure at high altitude can worsen the effects of dehydration and even lead to severe sunburns. Remember that sunburns develop more quickly at high altitudes.
What is acute mountain sickness?
This condition typically occurs between 6,000-10,000 feet. The mild symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea and poor sleep. In most cases, the symptoms clear up in 1-2 days. If the symptoms persist, the individual should descend to a lower altitude until he/she feels better.
Preventing high altitude illness
- It is recommended to move to areas with high altitudes in a gradual manner. Allow the body enough time to acclimatize and adjust. After reaching 8,000 feet, ascend not more than 1,000 feet in a day.
- If the individual experiences a headache, diminished coordination or other symptoms of altitude illness, he/she should not ascend any higher.
- Always bring the proper gear (warm and cold clothing) since the weather in areas with high altitude tend to change rapidly.
- If possible, wear light colored clothes that can wick moisture.
- Always use a sunscreen or sunblock to prevent sunburns.
Remember that it is a lot easier to prevent the symptoms of altitude illness than to manage them once they develop.