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Taipei City Hospital

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Watch out for Altitude Sickness During Hiking

       Leisure travels have been of growing interest for the Taiwanese people. Many of them come to doctor’s appointments asking for preventive altitude sickness medications before hiking at high altitudes.

       “Altitude sickness” refers to the discomfort caused by the inability to adjust to the unique high-altitude environment during hiking. Altitude sickness can be categorized into acute mountain sickness, high altitude cerebral edema, and high altitude pulmonary edema. Symptoms of acute mountain sickness includes headache, dizziness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. In few cases, the symptoms would worsen to incur high altitude cerebral edema resulting in serious headache, gait instability, nausea, vomiting, disorientation, confusion, coma or even death.

       It is recommended that travelers hiking to high altitudes will take doctor-prescribed preventive medications before departure to lower the risk of altitude sickness. Preventive medicines for acute mountain sickness and high altitude cerebral edema are Diamox and Dexamethasone; and those used for high altitude pulmonary edema are Nifedipine, Sildenafil citrate (Viagra), and Cialis. Besides taking the preventive medications, travelers should also maintain enough sleep, keep warm, drink water, avoid drinking alcohol and taking sleeping pills, and reduce high-intensity activities.

       Hikers should evaluate their own health conditions and gradually trek up the trails; abrupt elevation changes should be avoided. People should also pay attention to any possible signs of their own as well as in their companions when traveling at high altitude. If travelers are observed experiencing headache, nausea, vomiting, panting, or coughing, they should be primarily treated as altitude sickness patients. They must not continue hiking with these symptoms. In addition to providing oxygen, rest, and medical treatment, lowering altitude should be the key solution to ameliorate altitude sickness.