Altitude Sickness : Causes, Symptoms & Prevention

Summer time in Phoenix is brutal, especially for the hikers. I mean, if you don’t get up early to hike… you’re pretty much screwed. 

The temps reach over 100 degrees, which makes being outside for a few minutes unbearable (unless, you are the type of desert rats that loves the heat). But, for most of hikers, early morning is the only time the weather is tolerable.

To get our hiking fix you’ll find us packing our bags and heading North to cooler parts of the state.

Northern Arizona

But it’s always not so glamourous for us Phoenicians, when heading north for a day trip.

Altitude sickness is a common occurrence, which can take its toll and makes us hike a little slower.

What is Altitude Sickness ?

Elevation sickness or otherwise known as Acute Mountain Sickness occurs when someone physically gets sick from being in a higher elevation.

Why Does it Happen?

  • The barometric pressure (which is the pressure of the air that surrounds us), drops and there is less oxygen.

When Does Occur?

  • Typically, above 8,000 feet.
  • Your exertion level, plays a role as well. If you’re pushing yourself up a mountain, then you’re more at risk for it to occur.

Who is at Risk?

  • Anyone else that lives at or near sea level and travels to a higher altitude.
  • Anyone who ascents too quickly.
  • Anyone not acclimatized to the altitude
  • People who recently drank alcohol. (Alcohol interferes with acclimations.)
  • People with medical problems with their:
    • heart
    • nervous system
    • lungs

Symptoms

Some hikers do not experience altitude sickness . So, if you’ve never hiked in the high country, you may luck out and not experience anything at all. But, if you’re not so lucky, here are some symptoms to pay attention to:

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

  • Dizziness,
  • Headaches,
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability

Okay, you might be thinking, “that sounds horrible.” Which it basically, feels like an intense hangover, so yes, it is a horrible feeling.

The good news, is that there are ways to prevent altitude sickness from occurring.

Prevention

Give Yourself Time to Get Acclimated to the Altitude (1-2 days)

Your best bet, is to actually let your body adjust to the elevation. This means, taking a day or two before the hike and just resting. Whether your planning on hiking or doing any other activity (even skiing) you will want to let your body adjust.

Just don’t spend your time relaxing with too many alcoholic drinks, seeing as alcohol can bring on altitude sickness.

Spend a day or two getting acclimated to the altitude, before starting your hikes

Medication

Pack some medicine you think will be useful, like Aspirin or an inhaler if necessary.

Get to Lower Elevation

If you experience symptoms, then you may not want to continue with your hike. (Especially if you’re doing Humphrey’s Peak, which will keep leading you higher and higher)

Humphreys Peak reaches 12,633 feet in elevation

Stop at the altitude you are at and head back down. I know it’s heart breaking when you’re hiking and can’t finish…but as a hiker it’s smart to know your limits and when to turn around.

As with everyone thing else, if you are experiencing severe reactions, then it’s best to go to a medical center to get checked out.

Know Your Limits

While visiting the high country can be the best hiking during the summer, pay attention to what your body is telling you. Altitude sickness can ruin your precious time, so know your limits and turn around if you need too.

2 comments

  1. I always skip the alcohol at high altitude. not worth it. Unless you are able to rapidly descend when the altitude sickness hits – although probably not a good idea to run down a mountain drunk 😂

    Liked by 1 person

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