IIn this post, I’m talking about something that you surely want to know – Prevention of altitude sickness.
I want to include a disclaimer first – there is no foolproof way to prevent altitude sickness.
All of these methods I put down will to reduce Your chances of getting altitude sickness. And from our experience, they are worth it.
I’ll break this down into three parts.
1. Your itinerary
As you already know, altitude sickness occurs when your body has not got used to altitude well enough.
In order to Giving your body enough time to acclimate is the most effective way to prevent altitude sickness.
That is why you will see that we have “acclimatization days” on our high-altitude hikes such as the Rupin Pass, Roopkund and Goechala. These are days when you can just rest in a specific campsite without too much exertion.
Acclimatization days are a very effective tool that can help your body adapt to altitude and prevent altitude sickness from occurring.
Breaking up your itinerary as much as possible and driving slowly is the most effective way of preventing altitude sickness.
Note, however, that the time required for acclimatization is different for each individual. Ideally, you should only increase your sleeping height by 1,000 feet each day.
But the Indian Himalayas climb very quickly. The difference in elevation between the camps is large, usually between two and three thousand feet. This is because there is either no place to camp in between or there are no water sources etc.
We call this a “forced accent”. You are forced to ascend more than required.
This makes you more prone to altitude sickness.
There are a few ways to manage this.
2. A preventive course from Diamox
There are certain medications that can help you acclimate faster.
Hikers and climbers around the world use a drug called acetazolamide (Diamox) to help acclimate themselves faster.
This drug is a diuretic. Our founder wrote A detailed article on how Diamox works. Read it.
In short, this medicine will help you acclimate faster by increasing your breathing rate.
So for most hikes that are gaining altitude too quickly, it really helps to take a preventative course with Diamox. Especially if your hike climbs above 13,000 to 14,000 feet.
Even for those who suddenly soar to great heights, such as those driving or flying to Leh, we recommend Diamox.
Dosage: Start with a dosage of 125 mg (half a tablet) every 12 hours 2 days before your hike (usually when you arrive in Delhi). Increase it to 250 mg (full tablet) every 12 hours from the day you reach base camp and continue until you have completed the hike.
Don’t stop the course in between.
Side effects: There aren’t too many side effects from taking Diamox. You feel numbness in your hands and feet. You pee more often (which means the drug is doing its job). Some claim they get a bit loose after Diamox. Generally, a digene will take care of it.
Remember that Diamox is a sulfa based drug. If you are allergic to sulfides, avoid Diamox.
As an alternative to Diamox, you can keep a strip of dexamethasone tablets with you. This is a steroid and it reduces muscle inflammation in the body. It does not help to accelerate acclimatization itself. So if you get hit by AMS, take Dex as an alternative. The dosage is 4 mg every six hours. However, avoid taking Dex as a preventive medicine.
While Diamox will make AMS less likely to hit you, it is not a foolproof medicine. Even those on a Diamox course can be hit by AMS.
It is therefore important that your body does its part for acclimatization.
Follow the prep guidelines above to reduce the chance of developing AMS
3. Work on your fitness
It is imperative that you prepare your body to function well with less oxygen. You can do this by simply increasing your cardiovascular endurance.
Cardiovascular endurance is basically the ability of your lungs, heart and blood vessels to deliver oxygen to your body. Of course, someone with higher cardiovascular endurance has a greater chance of acclimatizing faster at high altitude.
While there’s no proven link between altitude sickness and fitness, we can speak from experience. On our hikes, we’ve found that it is usually unsuitable people who are more prone to AMS. When I say not fit, I am not talking about overweight or underweight. I’m talking about normal physical endurance.
Strangely, we have also seen that super-fit trekkers climb too fast and then suffer from AMS in the next camp. When you are fit, hold back the ego. Climb slowly.
Are hydration, good nutrition, and warmth helpful in preventing altitude sickness?
Neither of them are by themselves a strength to keep altitude sickness at bay. But together they contribute to your body’s general wellbeing, which can reduce your risk of altitude sickness.
Hydration helps your body to function smoothly. You need at least 4 liters of water a day on a high-altitude hike. Every time you urinate, drink enough water to keep the color as colorless as possible. If it’s deeply colored, you know you are dehydrated.
Even diet plays an equally important role. It is important to eat well at high altitude, but not overeat. We do not recommend a high protein diet. A high protein content is harder for your body to break down. That is why we do not serve meat on our hikes. We recommend a low-salt, healthy meal.
warmth is especially necessary if you expect temperatures below 5 degrees (which is the case with most Himalayan hikes). You especially need to keep your head, core, hands, and feet warm. Sufficient layers, a woolen hat, gloves and woolen socks are therefore mandatory when hiking at high altitudes. We’ve seen way too many hikers in just a layer or two of clothing, telling us that they are okay with the cold, that they don’t feel cold. They are just heroic, but their body temperature drops.
To avoid things
alcohol is a big NO, especially if you are not used to the altitude. I made a video a while ago about why it’s bad for you. Check it out here.
Smoke Nothing is good either because it directly inhibits your lungs’ ability to send oxygen to your body.
Both drinking and smoking cause dehydration and that is the last thing you need on your hike!
Overexertion again is something to avoid at high altitude. Don’t try to put too much into your itinerary. Take it slow and give your body all the rest it needs.
With this I end my 4-part series on height and body. Hope these articles have informed you better and that by seeing it you will be able to identify and combat altitude sickness.
I am writing the links to the previous articles here. Make sure to bookmark them for future use.
> What happens to your body at high altitude?
> What is altitude sickness and how do you identify it?
> How to Treat Altitude Sickness – AMS, HAPE, and HACE