First Aid for Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness can affect any individual no matter how physically fit they are. In some cases it can be mild, and when medical help is not available it can be life threatening. Some basic first aid knowledge could help spot the symptoms of altitude sickness, which could stop the condition spiralling out of control.
Simplified altitude sickness is about a lack of oxygen reaching key areas of the body like the lungs and brain. The air becomes thinner as altitude increases (for example when climbing a mountain). This can be a problem for the body in altitudes of over 3000 metres where physiological symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe.
Never travel at high altitude alone as people will need to look out for each other in order to spot the signs of altitude sickness. Look out for the following symptoms which could suggest that someone is struggling:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
Remember - Its best to contact your expedition leader, mountain guide or local village when you are uncertain about the symptoms
Once the symptoms have been spotted it is best to rest and not travel any higher. The body has an ability to adjust to altitude, and if the symptoms disappear that person could start their journey upwards again. Keep things simple and apply this four step plan:
- Stop, rest and allow the person to make a full recovery
- Continue to climb but descend immediately if the symptoms return
- If problems persist for 24 hours descend to a safe area (where medical help is available)
- Seek medical help straight away when breathing difficulties are severe, response levels diminish, and when any unusual fluid is coughed up from the lungs.
Helpful hint - Bottled oxygen (if present) can help alleviate some of the symptoms of altitude sickness. However the affected person should still descend and seek medical assistance.