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Altitude or Mountain Sickness in Ladakh

What is High Altitude ?

Leh city is located at an altitude of 3500 meter above sea level and this is a high altitude Desert area. Some people feel high altitude sickness on the day of arrival in Leh, therefore this is highly recommended to follow some of the essential tips to avoid high altitude sickness. Avoid travelling for a long distance like Nubra / Pangong Lake / Tso Moriri Lake even lower Indus Valley. Remain in your hotel in Leh and have a complete rest on the day of arrival. This is suggested to have a walk up to Shanti Stupa / Gompa Village to gain height and back to the hotel on bit lower altitude to sleep. Day by day greenery is widening in overall Leh valley which leads increase of Oxygen in the atmosphere.

In term of mountaineering altitude is divided in three section

High 2,500 to 4,000 metres (8,000 to 13,000 feet )
Very High 4,000 to 5,500 metres (13,000 to 18,000 feet)
Extremely High over 5,500 metres (over 18,000 feet)

This is difficult to determine who may be affected by altitude sickness since there are no specific factors such as age, sex, or physical condition that correlate with High Altitude Sickness. Some people get it and some people don't because some people are more flexible with their acclimatization.

Most people can ascend to 2,500 – 3000 metres above sea level easily and without any harsh symptoms. People start feeling the effect of high altitude after 3000 M altitude. Leh is situated at an altitude of 3500 M above sea level therefore this is recommended to have a complete rest on the day of arrival if flying directly to Leh.

The Causes of Altitude Sickness

The percentage of oxygen at sea level is about 20 - 22% approx. and the barometric pressure is around 750 - 765 mmHg approx. As altitude increases, the percentage remains the same but the number of oxygen molecules per breath get reduced. At 3,600 metres (12,000 feet) the barometric pressure is only about 480 mmHg, so there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath so the body must adjust to having less oxygen.
In addition, high altitude and lower air pressure causes fluid to leak from the capillaries in both the lungs and the brain which can lead to fluid build-up. Continuing on to higher altitude without proper acclimatization can lead to the potentially serious, even life-threatening altitude sickness at very high altitude.

What is Acclimatization?

The main cause of altitude sickness is approaching too high too quickly. Given enough time, your body will adapt to the decrease in oxygen at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes one to three days at any given altitude, in this case The body produces more red blood cells to carry oxygen, Pressure in pulmonary capillaries is increased, The body produces more of a particular enzyme that causes the release of oxygen from hemoglobin to the body tissues.
Having proper rest and drink more water may lead for proper acclimatization. Though there is no substitute for proper acclimatization

Acute Mountain Sickness

AMS is very common at high altitude. At over 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) 75% of people will have mild symptoms. Like Headache , Nausea &Dizziness, Loss of appetite, Fatigue, Shortness of breath, Disturbed sleep, General feeling of malaise.

Though it dependent upon the elevation, the rate of ascent, and individual susceptibility. The symptoms usually start 6 to 24 hours after arrival at altitude.

AMS has generally three categories > Mild > Moderate and severe

Mild AMS Symptoms tend to be worse at night specially. Though you are allowed for normal daily routine activity / other than hiking and getting prepared for trekking if going for high altitude.

Moderate AMS symptoms may have Severe headache, Nausea and vomiting, increasing weakness and fatigue, Shortness of breath.

Having the situation as such this is suggested to visit the nearest hospital for medication and inhale Oxygen.

Severe AMS results Shortness of breath even not walking, Inability to walk, Decreasing mental status, Fluid build-up in the lungs. With the situation as such this is advisable to descend the patient immediately on lower altitude as much as possible and directly take to the hospital.

High Altitude Cerebral Oedema results from fluid build up in the lungs. And it may have the symptoms of Shortness of breath at rest, Tightness in the chest, and a persistent cough bringing up white, watery, or frothy fluid, Marked fatigue and weakness, A feeling of impending suffocation at night, Confusion, and irrational behavior are signs that insufficient oxygen is reaching the brain. Though this does not happen often / less frequently.

High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema, HAPO. This fluid prevents effective oxygen exchange. As the condition becomes more severe, the level of oxygen in the bloodstream decreases, which leads to cyanosis, impaired cerebral function. It may have symptoms of Headache, Weakness, Disorientation, Loss of co-ordination, Decreasing levels of consciousness, Loss of memory, Hallucinations &Psychotic behavior, Coma.

In both cases the lack of oxygen results in leakage of fluid through the capillary walls into either the lungs or the brain.

Prevention of Altitude Sickness

Some basic guidelines for the prevention of AMS:-

If you do fly or drive, over 3000 – 3500 M ASL do not overexert yourself or move higher for the first 24 hours.

  • If you go above 3,500 metres, only increase your altitude by 350 metres per day, and take a rest day to acclimatize.
  • Climb high and sleep low! in a day as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.
  • If you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don't go higher until symptoms decrease.
  • If symptoms increase, go further down to sleep.
  • Keep in mind that different people will acclimatize at different rates.
  • Stay properly hydrated. Acclimatization is often accompanied by fluid loss, so you need to drink lots of fluids to remain properly hydrated, at least four to six litres per day).
  • Take it easy and don't overexert yourself when you first get up to altitude. But, light activity during the day is better than sleeping
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and other depressant drugs
  • Eat a high calorie diet while at altitude.

(Diamox): This is the most tried and tested drug for altitude sickness prevention and treatment. Consult your doctor how to use this drug

(Disclaimer)

Please be assured that below text has been taken from various reliable sources about high altitude sickness. “Discover Ladakh Adventure Tours & Travel” does not take any responsibility for its official authenticity and further personal and office use of any kind. This is an act to give an awareness / information to our valued guest so that they can well prepared to visit Ladakh and may avoid any act which may invite high altitude sickness. So that you can enjoy your valuable time at this beautiful destination.

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