For some people, altitude sickness or mountain sickness is considered as mild and easy to cure. What they do not know is that altitude sickness can also be life-threatening. For this reason, once altitude sickness is experienced, altitude/mountain sickness first aid should be given to the patient immediately.
Altitude/Mountain Sickness First Aid
Types of mountain sickness
Acute mountain sickness is the most common form of altitude sickness. This type is also considered as the mildest. This can be acquired when people are at high elevation. This is commonly experienced by people who travel to highly elevated areas for mountain climbing, skiing, and other related activities.
High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), on the other hand, is another type of altitude sickness wherein fluids build up inside the lungs which makes the patient experience difficulty in breathing. This type of altitude sickness is a lot more serious compared to acute mountain sickness.
High altitude pulmonary edema often happens after the second night spent at a highly elevated area. In some cases, HAPE occurs earlier or later than usual. If neglected and left untreated, high altitude pulmonary edema can progress to respiratory collapse and even death.
Another severe type of mountain sickness is known as high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Patients who experience this kind of mountain sickness experience fluid buildup within their brain. Moreover, as the brain swells with fluid, the patient’s mental state is altered. A person suffering from HACE experiences loss of coordination which then progresses to a coma. If still left untreated, it can ultimately lead to death.
When will altitude sickness develop?
Mountain sickness usually develops when the body can no longer adjust to the speed of incline into higher heights. Generally, it develops at heights above 2,400 meters of the sea level and when the pace of incline is more than 300 meters daily.
Mountain Sickness: What to do?
Before performing any altitude/mountain sickness first aid, see to it that you are calm and not in a panic. This way, the patient won’t panic as well. You can assess that a person is suffering from altitude sickness when she experiences fatigue, nausea, headache, loss of appetite, vomiting, swelling of arms and legs, weakness, and vomiting.
When these symptoms occur, the patient should immediately descend to a lower altitude. Check if the body is already able to adjust. If the symptoms continue to show, descend to an even lower altitude. Keep doing so until symptoms go away.
In performing altitude/mountain sickness first aid, see to it that the symptoms are treated properly. If available, give oxygen to the patient. You must keep the patient well rested and warm. If the patient suffers from a headache, give him/her acetaminophen to ease the pain.
When to call medical assistance
No matter how effective the altitude/mountain sickness first aid maybe, always see to it that the patient sees a doctor after descent even when the patient is no longer experiencing any symptoms. Moreover, if the patient continues to show symptoms several days after the descent, rush him/her to a hospital immediately.