Altitude Sickness

An altitude over 2,500 meters (about 8000 feet) is usually defined as high altitude, which possibly affects health. Most places in Tibet are higher than this level, especially the north and west area of Tibet. And, a rapid ascent to some high-altitude areas in Tibet would results in altitude sickness - one of the biggest challenges. But it is not as difficult as you imagined if you get properly informed and prepared.

On Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans. AMS is common at high altitudes due to the hypoxic (low oxygen) environment. At elevations over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), 75% of people would have mild symptoms, which does not interfere with normal activity. The symptoms of mild AMS include headache, nausea, fatigue and loss of appetite. AMS usually commence within six to ten hours after arriving at altitude.
However, altitude sickness can be very serious! Continuing to higher altitudes without proper acclimatization could develop into the more serious, even life-threatening conditions. There are high-altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE) and high-altitude cerebral oedema (HACE).

Altitude acclimatization
The major cause of altitude sickness is going too high too fast. Given time, your body can adapt to the decreased oxygen supply at a higher altitude. This process is known as acclimatization. Most visitors to Tibet could suffer from some AMS symptoms, which will generally subside in one to two days as the body acclimatizes.

Prevention of Altitude Sickness

Ascend slowly is the best way to avoid altitude sickness. A gradual ascent will allow your body to acclimatize to higher altitudes and the decreased oxygen supply. For example, if you're healthy, you can probably safely go from sea level to an altitude of 8,000 feet in a few days. But when you reach an altitude above 8,000 feet, don't go up faster than 1,000 feet per day.

Treatment of Altitude Sickness
The best treatment for any altitude sickness is to descent to a lower altitude right away. But if you only have mild symptoms of AMS, you should rest where you are for a day or two until your symptoms resolve. During the acclimatization process, do not exercise at all - just rest until you feel better. If symptoms are getting worse, you must go down 1,500 to 2,000 feet immediately before you are faced with a life-threatening situation. Keep going down until your symptoms go away completely.

You can also use a medication called Diamox as a prevention or treatment for AMS, but you should discuss this first with a doctor experienced in altitude medicine. Diamox should not be taken by people with a sulphur drug allergy. This medication helps to reduce the severity of the symptoms, but not to curing the problem. Once medications do not respond to the symptoms, go to hospital or descent immediately to safe altitude!

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