Altitude Sickness While Traveling to Other Countries

Travelers often experience illness while visiting another country, usually in the form of diarrhea. This is due to the water or prepared foods of the area. There are other sicknesses that travelers can experience, one of which is altitude sickness. The higher the altitude of the country where you’re visiting, the thinner the air. When the air is thin there is less oxygen to breathe, causing all sorts of symptoms.

At an altitude of 6,000 feet travelers usually develop a mild case of altitude sickness. At 8,000 – 10,000 feet there chances are that a traveler will experience mild to moderate sickness. At 10,000 feet most travelers do experience some version of altitude illness. Between 10,000 and 14,000 feet the risk becomes greater with travelers experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of the illness. Travelers who stay at altitudes above 18,000 feet for more than a few weeks will experience physical and mental deterioration.

A mild case of altitude sickness usually consists of headache, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping and a decreased appetite. These symptoms usually develop between 6 hours and 2 days of arrival. Headaches usually subside as the day wears on. Certain activities such as straining, lifting, hiking or running can aggravate the symptoms. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen help some travelers who are active.

When altitude sickness becomes severe most travelers notice that they are having trouble with balance. Sometimes it’s difficult to walk uphill or climb stairs. It’s important to recognize a worsening case of altitude illness and seek medical help if necessary. Some worsening symptoms can include being excessively tired or sleepy. Difficulty in thinking and reacting are other symptoms.

Without medical attention a traveler can experience high altitude pulmonary edema or high altitude cerebral edema. High altitude cerebral edema is a condition where the brain swells. High altitude pulmonary edema is a condition where fluid collects in the lungs. Both conditions are serious but treatable.

Treatment usually involves descending to a lower altitude, rest, oxygen, and sometimes taking acetazolamide. Acetazolamide can help prevent high altitude sickness if taken a day or so before ascending, then while ascending. To further prevent the illness drink plenty of water, eat a high carbohydrate diet and get plenty of sleep. Taking sleeping medications is not recommended, however. Also avoid alcohol, pain pills and anxiety medications while staying at high altitudes.

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