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High altitude sickness – Enjoy Leh-Ladakh without getting sick

High altitude sickness

What is high Altitude Sickness?

Sometimes called “mountain sickness,” altitude sickness is a set of symptoms that can strike if you walk or climb to a higher elevation, or altitude, too quickly.

High altitude sickness Leh ladakh

Why does it happen?

As you attain higher altitude, the air pressure reduces. Also, the air is thinner depleted of oxygen.

If you live in a place that’s located at a moderately high altitude, you get used to the air pressure. But if you travel to a place at a higher altitude than you’re used to, your body will need time to adjust to the change in pressure.

Any time you go above 8,000 feet, it may strike you.

What are the symptoms of High Altitude Sickness?

You might have:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of Sleep
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms usually come on within 12 to 24 hours of reaching a higher elevation. IT may get better within a day or two as your body adjusts to the change in altitude.

If you have a more moderate case of altitude sickness, your symptoms might feel more intense and not improve with over-the-counter medications. Instead of feeling better as time goes on, you’ll start to feel worse. You’ll have more shortness of breath and fatigue. You may also have:

  • Loss of coordination and trouble walking
  • A severe headache that doesn’t get better with medication
  • A tightening in your chest

What are the types of high Altitude sickness?

There are three kinds of altitude sickness:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the mildest form and it’s very common. The symptoms can feel like a hangover – dizziness, headache, muscle aches, nausea.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be very dangerous and even life threatening.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is the most severe form of altitude sickness and happens when there’s fluid in the brain. It’s life-threatening and you need to seek medical attention right away.

In either scenario please do not hesitate to get medical attention.

How can we prevent high altitude sickness?

The best way you can lower your chance of getting altitude sickness is through acclimatization. That means you let your body slowly get used to the changes in air pressure as you travel to higher elevations.

Going slowly helps your lungs get more air through deeper breaths and allows more of your red blood cells to carry oxygen to different parts of your body.

How to get acclimatize?

  • Start your journey below 10,000 feet. If you have to fly or drive somewhere that’s higher up, stop at one destination that’s lower for at least a full day before going any higher.
  • If you walk, hike, or climb over 10,000 feet, only go up an additional 1,000 feet per day. For every 3,000 feet you climb, rest at least a day at that height.
  • “Climb high and sleep low”: If you have to climb over 1,000 feet in a day, make sure you come back down to a lower altitude to sleep.
  • Drink 3-4 quarts of water every day and make sure about 70% of your calories are coming from carbs.
  • Don’t use tobacco, alcohol, or other medications, such as sleeping pills.
  • Know how to identify the first signs of altitude sickness. Immediately move to a lower elevation if you start to develop these symptoms.
  • Carry oxygen cylinder in case you feel uneasy during travels/treks.

How to avoid Hight Altitude sickness in Leh Ladakh?

  • If you fly directly to Leh-Ladakh, take 1-2 days to get acclimatize and drink lots of fluids. Avoid traveling or stressing yourself. Eat less and sleep more. While sleeping, try to keep windows open for more air. It’s better to prepare beforehand and get into the habit of drinking 4-5 liters of water. Avoid heavy food during the first few days.
  • Better to visit Nubra before Pangong or Tsomriri. Since Nubra is at a lower altitude it’s more suited to get acclimatized. Avoid spending too much time at Khardungla or Changla Pass.
  • The way is to take road route from Srinagar to Leh. Not only the route is breath-taking but also help you gradually get used to higher altitudes.

What are the recommended medicines?

Diamox – Diamox helps the body to breathe faster hence accelerating the acclimatization process. Take it as preventive medicine and not once you start feeling sick.

  • Suggested Quantity – 125-250 mg twice a day
  • Side Effects – tingling in toes and fingers, numbness, vomiting, nausea, frequent urination etc.

Aspirin/Disprin – Aspirin and Disprin work as blood thinners and enable your blood to carry more oxygen.

Dexamethasone – Dexamethasone also helps in overcoming AMS.

  • Suggested Quantity – 2-4 mg after every 6 hours

Oxygen Cylinders – One must carry portable oxygen cylinders easily available at the chemist shop to avoid AMS.

Note –  These medicines are only a recommendation. Do consult an experienced doctor before taking them. If the symptoms still persist, it’s better to drop the idea of moving further. One should immediately plan to descend to a lower altitude.

What are places high altitude sickness strikes the most?

Although AMS can hit anybody anywhere, but there are some areas where the high chances of suffering from AMS are high.

  • Changthang, at an altitude of 14,846 ft above sea level
  • Tanglang La, elevation 5,328 metres (17,480 ft),
  • Pangong Tso, 4,350 m (14,270 ft).
  • Tso Moriri, at an altitude of 4,522 m (14,836 ft).

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