High altitude travel tips
When you travel to high altitude:
1.- DON’T PANIC
Don’t be afraid of high altitude! Over 200 million people live above 2000m of altitude. Immediate return is not the first solution. The economic costs are very high, and you lose the opportunity to complete your important mission in La Paz, or to share a vacation with relatives or friends. If you panic, your heart beats faster and this can aggravate your condition.
2. - HYDRATE YOURSELF
Drink plenty of water. If possible mineral water. Drink tea infusion and orange juice. In Bolivia, drinking Coca leaf tea infusion is very good.
3.- AVOID COLD
The effects of high altitude also depend on the distance that you have to travel, the difference in season, temperature, and also the time of day of arrival. Cold weather aggravates the high altitude effects. High altitude is like an allergy to a certain food: some people have a bad reaction, and others don't.
4.- AVOID TABACO AND ALCOHOL
Tabaco compromises your breathing capacity. Alcohol metabolism is altered at high altitude. Alcohol can lead to oxygen desaturation in the body. Particularly during sleep. People affirm that when first arriving to high altitude they get drunk faster than at sea level. Alcohol can produce more dehydration. It aggraves high altitude first arrival symptoms, producing a faster heart beat.
5.- AVOID IMMEDIATE PHYSICAL EFFORT
Don’t carry heavy weights. don’t run, don’t climb stairs fast, take it easy.
6.- WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
ALWAYS take simple precautions of basic hygiene. Your organism is immune to the bacteria and viruses that surround you in your usual habitat and not to those of a new environment. You should not ingest unknown foods in great amounts for the first time upon arrival. Digestive enzymes develop a specific capacity and function for each type of food. Although some foods taste very good, one should NOT stuff oneself the first day. Avoid whole milk the first days. And above all, don't eat too much the first day
7. SLEEP LOW
This refers to the city of La Paz. The airport is located at 4100m , the center of the city is at 3600m. But there are hotels at 3300m in the lower area of Calacoto, twenty minutes from the center. Adjustment to high altitude is complex and varies greatly between individuals, and in different trips for the same individual. Some do not show any symptoms; they eat, drink, do exercises, even compete in sporting events. However, tolerance to high altitude does not depend on physical strength.
The precautions that you take depend on your symptoms. A slight headache, and a sensation of a lack of air with pressure on the chest can last for some hours. This could be accompanied by vomiting, in which case the later would alleviate the heavy feeling of indigestion and later will make you feel better.
If these symptoms get worse and persist in the first 12 hours of arrival, take an analgesic, rest in bed, and cover yourself with a blanket.
If the symptoms last 24 or 48 hours and prevent you from sleeping, do not panic, but do call a doctor, preferably a high altitude specialist. It is best to seek medical assistance soon, as you can avoid serious complications (see below), that will later require hospitalization.
The more serious cases should receive adequate medical attention and a precise diagnosis. High altitude sickness generally is associated with some chronic affection that surfaces with hypoxic stress (oxygen reduction). In many cases the manifestations of sickness at high altitude are due to overlooked health problems at sea level. Once diagnosed and treated you may return home in better conditions than before travelling!
All who travel to high altitudes should know that the organism is subject to a series of adaptive mechanisms in its new environment. This is valid for well adapted high altitude residents, like those born in La Paz or in the Altiplano region (3000-4000 m), who have to go up to the mines or panoramic areas, like ski resort Chacaltaya (5200 m) or La Cumbre (4600 m) on the way to their destination of the Yungas valleys (600 m), for example.
No specific and adequate medication is as of yet known for severe cases of acute high altitude sickness (also know locally as Sorojche). The diuretic acetazolamide [DIAMOX], has been recommended to prevent acute illness previous taken one day before ascent to high altitude as a prophylactic. It is not 100 % effective and we normally don’t recomment it. And always remember, that your illness may be associated with a common affection that went untreated. The most frequently detectable causes are broncho-pulmonary disease, hypertension, heart and kidney disease. Nowadays, the tecnology and facilities permit adecuate treatment and health care, in a specialized high altitude clinic. So you have nothing to fear.
SUMMARY OF NORMAL MECHANISMS OF HIGH ALTITUDE ADAPTATION
1.- More frequent breathing, proportional to the altitude that you rise up to.
2.- Increased pulse (minor tachycardia)
3.- Dryness of the skin and mucous membranes, particularly in the respiratory tracts.
4.- Minor headache in some.
SUMMARY OF CLINICAL ABNORMAL MANIFESTATIONS OF HIGH ALTITUDE ADAPTATION
1.- Exaggerated increase in respiratory frequency, with difficulty breathing and a sensation of a lack of air (dyspnea) and/or cough.
2.- Exaggerated increase in pulse rate (frank tachycardia), with a sensation of heart palpitations, precordial oppression, and a perception of pulses in arteries of the neck and head.
3.- Sensation of pulses in the temples and ear accompanied by nausea and headache. Increase in arterial pressure.
4.- Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting.
5.- Disorientation and lack of coordination.
Sooo, WHAT SHOULD YOU BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR?
Children adapt best to the change in altitude, and paradoxically they also have a greater susceptibility to have High Altitude Pulmonary Edema [HAPE] with around 0.1 to 1% incidence, which can be fatal unless medical help is sought. However, these life threatening sickness can affect anyone at any age.
Symptoms of HAPE are:
- shortness of breath,
- fast pulse rate,
- phlegm that can be blood- stained and
- maybe blue lips.
You might be able to detect signs of HAPE before a physician is consulted. In 4 out of 5 cases the tongue is white with red spots (ulcers) of varying sizes, that go away when the condition improves. The therapy is generally based in oxygen therapy and rest. However, there are individual variations, and it is best to be treated in a specialized clinic, that has a Hyperoxic/Hypoxic Adaptation Chamber.
Another affection that rarely presents itself is HIGH ALTITUDE CEREBRAL EDEMA (HACE) and in our experience 0.1 – 0.5 % incidence;
Symptoms of HACE are:
- blurred vision,
- unable to walk straight,
- lack of coordination and
- delirium and coma in severe cases.
Immediate treatment with-no second-thoughts is also determined by medical consultation.
WHY ARE WE AFFECTED BY HIGH ALTITUDE?
As at sea level, the percentage of oxygen in the air remains 21 % at high altitude. Yet, because of the low barometric pressure, the air is "thinner". Some individuals do not have the capacity to adapt immediately to this lower pressure of oxygen that enters our lungs. When supplementary oxygen is given, it actually is increasing the concentration of the gas in the lungs, compensating the deficit of oxygen that is required by the organism to metabolize nutrients and convert them into energy.
Knowledge of what precautions should be taken is very useful for any change from one environment to another. Don't be afraid of high altitude, but be well informed and take precautions.
Exaggerated fear constitutes stress and therefore a great loss of energy.
Don't waste your energy, it is fundamental for adaptation!
DON'T BE AFRAID OF HIGH ALTITUDE, HAVE A KNOWLEDGE OF IT... AND ENJOY YOUR STAY!!!
@Copyright 1/24/96 IPPA - La Paz, Bolivia
Last update: 19/12/2018