Altitude sickness is a climber’s worst nightmare, and it happens when someone travels to a higher altitude too quickly. The cause is a lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
Altitude sickness comes in three forms: acute mountain sickness, pulmonary edema, and cerebral edema. The illness may be diagnosed by the patient’s symptoms, X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans.
Medical treatment, if it is necessary, often consists of the administration of oxygen and several medications.
Symptoms and Signs of Altitude Sickness
The outlook for the patient is generally really good when altitude sickness is caught early, and most fully recovers. However, recognizing the signs of altitude sickness quickly is crucial, as it can be very serious if ignored.
1. Reduced Energy
One of the first warning signs of altitude sickness is reduced energy. Individuals who are getting altitude sickness tend to become very fatigued, though they may also have a difficult time sleeping.
The fatigue is due to a lack of oxygen circulating in the blood. Oxygen is required for muscle function, so without enough of it, individuals feel weak and tired.
This symptom of altitude sickness may be easily ignored because patients may attribute the fatigue to other things. For example, a climber might think their fatigue is due to the exertion of climbing.
This may be true in some cases. If someone who is traveling to high altitudes feels fatigued, they should pay close attention to how they feel. If any other symptoms of altitude sickness show up, it is important to get to a lower altitude immediately.
2. Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of altitude sickness. The best way to combat these symptoms is to return to a lower altitude as soon as possible after the onset of nausea. It is best to try to get out of the high altitude before the vomiting begins.
Sometimes, the feeling of nausea is a result of low oxygen levels. It may also be accompanied by dizziness. It can also be caused by a high-altitude headache, which can resemble a migraine.
Other gastrointestinal symptoms that can occur in altitude sickness include diarrhea, low appetite, and stomach pain. All of these symptoms typically improve within a few days of getting back to normal altitudes.
3. Dizzy Spells
As indicated, altitude sickness can lead to dizzy spells. Getting lightheaded is an early symptom of altitude sickness and is due to not getting enough oxygen. Lightheadedness can be followed by the world feeling like it is spinning; sometimes patients blackout.
Dizziness can also cause disequilibrium, which is when an individual has difficulty walking or standing steadily. Passing out is possible if the affected individual does not return to a lower altitude.
Experiencing dizziness while skiing or climbing at high altitudes is a cause for alarm. If a patient with altitude sickness gets out of high elevations in time, the dizzy spells should subside within a couple of days.
4. Persistent Headache
Persistent headache is another early warning sign of altitude sickness. Headaches caused by altitude sickness can be either all around the head or in a specific spot on the forehead.
The pain these headaches cause is typically very painful and throbs. It is sometimes described as being similar to a migraine and may cause nausea. If someone with this type of headache moves too much or coughs, the pain usually worsens.
The pain also gets worse when the patient lies down. Individuals typically get this type of headache a few hours or a few days after reaching a high altitude.
Unlike some of the other symptoms of altitude sickness, these headaches are not entirely caused by oxygen deprivation. Rather, it is thought increased intracranial pressure is the cause.
5. Loss of Coordination
Loss of coordination is a very bad sign when accompanied by other symptoms of altitude sickness. It usually accompanies or follows bouts of dizziness.
Loss of coordination means altitude sickness has become severe. Getting to lower ground as soon as possible is imperative, and medical treatment will be required in order for the patient to get better.
Severe altitude sickness can come in the form of pulmonary edema or cerebral edema. Going into a coma is also a possibility if the patient does not seek help soon enough.
All of the signs of altitude sickness should be taken seriously, but this one can indicate serious danger.