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Altitude Sickness or Mountain Sickness

October 18, 2022
Tiempo de lectura: 4 minutos

Altitude sickness and its effects

The well-known and dreaded Altitude Sickness refers to a series of symptoms and effects that people may experience as they ascend more and more meters above sea level.

Normally people can ascend between 1500 and 2000 meters above sea level without major problems, it is from 3000 meters above sea level that the effects occur.

Why does it occur?

Faced with the discomfort that one feels, the question arises: Why does it occur?

and the answer is very simple, this is because the higher the altitude the atmospheric pressure decreases so the air is lighter and less oxygen is available.

In other words, what it produces is a lack of oxygen in the environment causing breathing difficulties among other symptoms that we will see later on.

Symptoms of mountain sickness

The most recurrent symptoms of increased height are the following:

  • Headache
  • tiredness and fatigue
  • Nausea
  • In more severe cases, fainting and heart failure may occur.

Remember to always listen to your body, pay attention to the symptoms and it is recommended to take a break before continuing with your activities.

The symptoms of Mountain Sickness can present themselves in different ways in each person is different, some with greater intensity and / or duration, so you should be aware of how your body reacts to the increase in height

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing altitude sickness is very simple, especially when the patient presents the symptoms mentioned above.

Although these do not appear immediately, but between 3 to 6 hours after the change in altitude, so it is important not to be confident and always wait for a prudent time before starting activities.

How long does altitude or mountain sickness last?

The duration of these symptoms caused by altitude sickness will depend a lot on the time you take to acclimatize to the new altitude in which you are. You may feel the discomfort with greater intensity the first day you experience the change in altitude and as the days pass these tend to decrease because the body is getting used to the new atmospheric pressure and the low level of oxygen in the environment.

In case the symptoms are persistent and the duration of altitude sickness exceeds 2 to 3 days, it is better to consult a doctor.

Treatments and remedies for altitude sickness

Although there is really no single treatment, there are natural remedies and some medications that can help counteract altitude sickness and the symptoms it causes.

Natural treatments for altitude sickness

Below, we present 2 of the most used native plants in natural treatments based on infusions of ancient plants that not only serve to altitude sickness and help to calm the symptoms of this, but also have other very beneficial properties for the body.

  • Coca (Erythroxilon coca): Among the many properties of the sacred Coca leaf, it has the ability to improve blood flow, stimulating oxygenation in the blood, thus improving respiratory and cardiovascular ailments. Additionally, it improves digestion, making it a good option to counteract nausea and stomach pain.

Coca leaves can be consumed by chewing the leaf directly, or through hot infusions, the good thing is that nowadays you can find coca in candies, chocolates, iced cookies and many more so it will always be at your fingertips.

  • Muña (Minthostachys mollis), also known as Andean mint is an aromatic plant that helps digestion and stomach problems, additionally helps against muscle aches, so it is a reinforcement that can be consumed with coca infusions.

Medications for altitude sickness

Pills are now available as treatments to counteract altitude sickness, in doses of 1 pill every 8 hours.

The composition of these pills is mainly to alleviate the discomfort you may feel when gaining more height, mainly help improve blood flow, counteract headaches, and help reduce muscle pain caused by irregular blood circulation due to a decrease of oxygen in the blood.

It is important to note that these drugs are not recommended for children under 12 years of age, pregnant women or nursing mothers, so you should consider consulting your physician for additional alternatives or you can opt for the natural options.

How to prevent Altitude Sickness or Mountain Sickness

  • One of the ways to prevent altitude sickness is to ascend gradually, especially for those who live in areas below 500 meters above sea level.
  • At least 1 day before you make a trip with a variation of more than 1000 meters above sea level, you can start taking pills against altitude sickness, which will help your body to avoid altitude sickness, if the medication is taken after feeling the discomfort, it will only help to reduce the symptoms.
  • When arriving at your new higher altitude destination, it is recommended to take at least one day of rest, to prevent you from feeling the discomfort of mountain sickness, it is better to let the body acclimatize gradually and do not perform activities that are too heavy or require great physical effort.
  • Always stay hydrated, it is important to remember that, due to the low oxygenation of the blood at high altitude, your breathing will be more agitated (the same as when doing sports), causing dehydration. Remember to always carry a bottle of water with you (you can also carry coca and/or muña tea with you).

What to do if I get altitude sickness in Peru?

In the presence of the symptoms of this disease, it is very easy to panic, especially the smallest ones.

The question then arises: What should I do?

The most advisable thing to do when you start to feel sick with mountain sickness is to stop any activity you are doing and rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Drink plenty of water and wait for the body to feel comfortable before continuing with the day, all this, of course, in case the discomfort is mild.

If, on the other hand, these discomforts are very strong, the first thing to do is to reduce the altitude, the symptoms disappear almost instantly. If, on the other hand, the symptoms of altitude sickness persist, you should receive oxygen, and in some cases receive nifedipine, a drug that helps lower blood pressure, so that the heart does not overexert itself, remember not to self-medicate, always wait for an expert to help you.

What to do if I get sick during a tour in Peru?

It is important that before taking any tour in Peru you always consult about the activities to be performed, and the altitude at which the tour will take place, as well as whether it is necessary to have a good physical condition or if there is any age limit.

 The altitude sickness usually occurs in the high Andean cities of Peru, and usually presents discomfort at least during the first few days of arrival in the new city, these discomforts usually disappear on the 2nd day.

So, if you are planning to do any mountaineering or similar activities, we recommend that you first take a couple of days to acclimatize and then make the ascent gradually, always listen to your body and do not overexert yourself.

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