Picture This: You’ve finally made it to a mountain out west that you’ve been itching to hike for months. Coming from a relatively small town at sea level on the east coast, you know you’re in for quite the adventure.
You’ve just made it a couple miles past the trailhead and then BAM, it hits you. You start feeling nauseous, fatigued and develop a headache. You know you’re not in the best shape, so you attribute your symptoms to your lack of fitness, and you trek along anyway, determined to make it to the top.
In reality, those symptoms are most likely signs of altitude sickness, and should not be ignored.
Anyone who is hiking, trekking, or hanging out several thousand feet above sea level can be stricken with altitude sickness at any given moment. From symptoms, treatments, and tips, here’s everything you need to know about altitude sickness.
When you feel symptoms of altitude sickness, your body is essentially reacting to getting less oxygen. This is because your body and lungs are not used to the lower air pressure and thinner air that exists at higher altitudes. If you or another hiker are experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness, the most effective treatment is to take the person to a lower, more comfortable altitude.
Tips for Preventing Altitude Sickness:
- Give yourself at least two days to reach an 8,000-10,000 foot elevation and then limit your daily ascents to 1,000 feet so your body can adapt to the altitude. *8,000 feet is cited as the elevation where the reduction in oxygen intake can cause symptoms of altitude sickness.
- Listen to your body! When it needs rest, it needs rest. If you aren’t feeling your best, don’t push it!
Variations of Altitude Sickness
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
This is the mildest, most common version of altitude sickness. Symptoms can include nausea/vomiting, fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.
AMS can be cured by listening to your body and resting at a lower elevation. When you’re hiking at higher altitudes, it’s important to keep in mind that your body needs sufficient time to adapt.
High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
HACE is essentially a moderate to severe form of AMS and happens when the brain begins to swell. Symptoms include confusion and impaired balance. Those suffering from HACE are typically unable to walk in a straight line, heel to toe, or balance on one foot.
*HACE can be fatal. Those suffering from HACE should be immediately escorted to a lower altitude. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.
High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
HAPE is when the lungs begin to fill with fluid and may or may not be preceded by AMS or HACE. Symptoms include shortness of breath, dry cough, unexpected fatigue, inability to exert oneself, followed by a wet cough.
*HAPE can be fatal. Those suffering from HAPE should be immediately carried to a lower elevation to prevent added stress on the lungs. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist.
Be careful out there adventurers!