High Altitude Sickness Advice

Mera Alpine Treks & Expedition maintain the highest standards of safety because your health and happiness are our greatest concern during trekking, peak climbing, and mountaineering expeditions. Our guides are all trained in first aid and carry a first aid supplies with them, enabling us to cope with a full range of possible illnesses.

One of the questions we are most frequently asked related to acute mountain sickness (AMS) otherwise known as altitude sickness. This is caused by ascending at a too rapid rate in higher altitudes outpaces the body's ability to adjust to those altitudes due to the decreasing amount of oxygen (low PO2) in the air as altitude increases and becoming dehydrated. This result can abnormally low blood levels of oxygen. Altitude sickness generally develops at elevations higher than 8,000 feet (about 2,400 meters) above sea level, and when the rate of ascent exceeds 1,500 feet (450 meters) per day. Everything becomes more of a challenge until just walking a great higher altitude. Remember, AMS can affect anyone, even the youngest and physically fittest person of the group can suffer from AMS.

Mera Alpine Treks & expedition minimize the risk of AMS by carefully planning the route and trip itinerary. We follow a day rule and walk at a reasonable pace and take plenty of breaks to rest, refresh, and allow your body to acclimatize. Communicate carefully with your guide during the trek as your guide is highly experienced in the symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. In many cases stopping to rest, or even descending to a lower altitude is enough to avoid AMS.  Your health is more important than the trek itinerary or keeping up with the group.

It is possible, depending on the person's health that an individual can rapidly go through symptoms of acute mountain sickness, and then progress to high-altitude pulmonary edema or high-altitude cerebral edema at moderate to high altitudes. People with acute mountain sickness often attribute their symptoms to other causes such as an uncomfortable bed, bad food, or a hangover. However, it is important to recognize that the symptoms may indicate a high altitude illness.

You are advised not to consume alcohol and cigarettes until you reach your destination if you are doing a high altitude trek above 4,000 m.

The symptoms of AMS are listed below. If you experience these symptoms, you should tell your guide immediately.

Early symptoms of High Altitude Mountain Sickness

  • Headaches: A throbbing headache that usually gets worse during the night and when you wake up.
  • Fatigue: Feeling weak and tiredness. In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress, or do anything.
  • Insomnia: Poor sleep or not sleeping well and waking up during the night.

Later symptoms of High Altitude Mountain Sickness

  • Headaches, Fatigue, Insomnia and a fever
  • Extreme fatigue, loss of walking and muscle coordination, loss of balance
  • Respiratory failure, shortness of breath at rest, heaviness in the chest
  • Dizziness or feeling dizzy and blurred vision
  • Nausea, feeling sick to your stomach. You may vomit
  • Cerebral edema confused thinking
  • A wet cough with frothy sputum
  • Decreases and lack of appetite

Causes of High Altitude Mountain Sickness

  • Ascending too rapidly (Not allowing enough time for the body to compensate for decreased oxygen in the air)
  • The decreasing amount of oxygen available as altitude increases.
  • Overexertion within 24 hours of ascent
  • Inadequate fluid intake / Decreases in a drinking water
  • Hypothermia      
  • Consumption of alcohol or other sedatives, bad food, or a hangover

Self-care or home remedies, Cure treatment for Altitude Mountain Sickness

  • Acclimatization: Delay further ascent until symptoms improve, rest for acclimatization and stay warm, wear warm clothing, mountain boots and gloves.
  • Walk slowly: The itinerary has been planned at a moderate pace, but you are encouraged to go at your own pace. We follow a day rule and walk at a reasonable pace and take plenty of breaks to rest, refresh and acclimatize.
  • Fluids: Drink plenty of fluids and consume between 4 to 6 liters of water per day. Keeping hydrated helps to acclimatize. Limit your coffee/tea, which also may cause dehydration. The most common traditional treatment is drinking garlic soup.
  • Food: Eat a high-calorie diet while at high altitude. Consume a high-carbohydrate diet.
  • Pure oxygen: Giving pure oxygen can help a person with severe breathing problems caused by altitude sickness. Physicians at mountain resorts commonly provide this treatment. Oxygen will improve the oxygen saturation of the blood.
  • A Gamow bag: A Gamow bag may be used if descent is not feasible. This portable plastic hyperbaric chamber can be inflated with a foot pump and is used when a rapid descent is not possible. It is usually used as an aid to evacuate people with severe symptoms, not to treat them at high altitude.
  • Medication: Take medications as prescribed. Consider taking Diamox (Acetazolamide) may be prescribed to prevent acute altitude sickness. This medication speeds acclimatization. Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) may be taken for headache (do not give aspirin to children). Antibiotics may be given if a fever is present and pneumonia is possible.
  • Avoid: Avoid physical exertion for the first 24 hours. Do not drink alcoholic beverages, and avoid smoking tobacco especially while at a high altitude. Do not use sleeping pills or other central nervous system depressants to treat insomnia because they can suppress breathing.
  • Add: Follow instructions regarding activity limitations, use of additional oxygen, postponement of climbing, or immediate descent, if required change the trip itinerary on the spot as per group discussion.
  • Descending: If symptoms continue, do not travel any higher and consider descending to a lower altitude. If symptoms worsen, descend approximately 1,000 - 2,000 feet (300-600 meters) immediately. Or this means that it may be necessary to arrange descent for the ill person by whatever means available at the place for example helicopter, snowmobile, manpower or horse.
  • Insurance/Hospital: If your insurance includes medical treatment, rescue insurance, accidental insurance during your trekking, peak climbing, mountaineering expedition, it helps to provide the facility of a helicopter for rescue and admit in the hospital which covers all expenses.