Understanding Altitude Sickness

Many people love the thrill of excitement, and mountain climbing is a great way to feel that joy. However, if you don't know what you're doing, you can be putting yourself in danger. Even if you have all the right equipment and skills, you may fall victim to altitude sickness. To learn more, keep reading.

What Causes Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness is caused by reduced oxygen due to less pressure at higher altitudes. Although there is the same concentration of oxygen molecules, the decreased pressure means they aren't as compact. This means you take in less oxygen with every breath at higher altitudes than at sea level.  

For this reason, the condition often affects mountain climbers and people who naturally live at high altitudes. If you climb too fast, your body won't acclimate to the changing oxygen density, but if you take your time, your body can adjust. However, spending to much time at high altitudes can cause chronic mountain sickness or Monge's disease.

What Are the Symptoms and Complications?

The symptoms depend on the severity of the altitude sickness. Some people may experience dizziness, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite. However, as the condition worsens, they may start to have coordination problems, worsening fatigue, severe headache, vomiting, and chest tightness. In severe cases, patients may experience shortness of breath while resting and confusion.

Altitude sickness, however, doesn't just affect your ability to breathe. The lower air pressure combined with high altitude can also cause fluid buildup in the body. If this happens in the lungs, you may have irrational behavior, extreme fatigue, cough with fluid, etc. If the fluid builds up in your brain, you may have headaches, loss of coordination, psychotic behavior, or a coma.

How Is Altitude Sickness Treated?

You don't usually need tests to determine if you have altitude sickness. The rarity of people who find themselves at those high altitudes combined with the symptoms is usually enough to diagnose. However, X-rays may be performed if there is a concern of fluid buildup.

Treatment depends on the severity. If you only experienced a headache or mild symptoms, over-the-counter medicines may be enough until you reach a lower altitude. However, for more severe symptoms, you may need oxygen, especially if there is also fluid buildup in the lungs.

Altitude sickness can be prevented, but it is always a good idea to take some oxygen with you on high climbs. If you would like to know more, contact a provider like Alpine Oxygen in your area today.