Be prepared for your next vacation
Be prepared for your next vacation
For families planning travel with destinations that include great heights, there are a multitude of factors to consider for a safe and prepared trip.
Altitude sickness, or sometimes known as mountain illness, can be a common issue for both children and adults traveling to locations 8,000 feet or higher above sea level. The symptoms related to altitude sickness occur due to the low oxygen levels that exist in high altitudes, among other factors, and can affect anyone of any age or sex whose body doesn’t have enough time to adjust to the changes in air pressure and oxygen levels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, altitude sickness can largely be preventable, though there are medications and treatments should it become problematic. The most effective tactic in avoiding sickness is to ascend at a gradual pace. The CDC suggests not to go from a low altitude to sleeping at over 9,000 feet or higher in one day. It is recommended to spend a few days at higher ranges, giving the body adequate time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels. Furthermore, for every 3,300 feet that is ascended, it is suggested to spend a day without going further. These recommendations can be helpful for trips in which the rate that is being traveled is adjustable, and in the control of the travelers. However, there are many trips that the ascending rates are unavoidable and rather than prevention, the focus lies on treatment of symptoms.
Of the concerns with altitude illness, hypoxia or hypoxemia, is the most significant. This is the condition in which there is a deficiency of oxygen to the tissues in the body. The point in which a body is sleeping is when the most hypoxemia is produced. According to the CDC, the human body can typically adjust well to hypoxia, though it takes time to do so. This further suggests the need to acclimatize for a few days, anywhere from three to five days, before ascending to higher levels. Acclimatization will improve sleep and increase comfort.
The main characteristics of altitude sickness include headaches, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. These can indicate a mild case of the illness and can be mostly treated according to symptom with pain relievers or otherwise. If at all possible, it can be of relief to descend back down to lower levels in a safe manner. Other mild symptoms can present as dizziness, difficulty sleeping, rapid pulse and heart rate, loss of appetite and shortness of breath with exertion. According to the National Institute of Health, most cases of altitude sickness are mild, however more severe instances can be life-threatening.
The symptoms of altitude illness affect the heart, muscles, lungs and nervous system.
When conditions become severe they can be identified by cyanosis, or a blue coloring to the skin, chest tightness or congestion, confusion, coughing up blood, unable to walk or shortness of breath at rest, according to the NIH. The dangers of a severe case of altitude sickness are complications that may arise such as a coma, fluid in the lungs, swelling of the brain or even death. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of altitude illness as it is best treated in the early stages. Should it be severe enough to cause swelling of the brain, additional health risks could include seizures or permanent damage to the nervous system. In these cases, hospitalization maybe necessary.
Heading to higher ground should be avoided if symptoms are still present. For very young children, their presentation may be fussy and symptoms may not be easily identifiable. It may appear as irritability or trouble eating and sleeping. It’s important to keep everyone hydrated and to descend safely should there be significant concern."The dangers of a severe case of altitude sickness are complications that may arise such as a coma, fl uid in the lungs, swelling of the brain or even death.”
According to the CDC, one of the most critical indications that altitude sickness has become severe is if symptoms continue to worsen while at rest and while at the same altitude level.
During the trip, the NIH states a medical professional should be contacted if the person indicates severe breathing problems, altered alertness or coughing up blood. In most cases, however, the key to altitude sickness is prevention – ascending at a moderate rate, stopping for rest at every 2,000 feet, sleeping at a lower altitude and recognizing early symptoms.IMPORTANT TIP:
If travelers have pre-existing conditions such as heart or lung disease, or are children younger than six weeks of age, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor before departing on the trip should medication or other precautions be required.