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The Science Behind Altitude Sickness

Posted Friday 04 January 2019 12:30 by Tim Deakin in Altitude Sickness

altitude sicknessWhat really happens to your body when you climb?

For many of us, the best way to tackle the winter blues is to book an exciting winter getaway that’s full of adventure. Unfortunately, a lot of the most desirable spots in the world — the Swiss Alps, Machu Picchu and the Rocky Mountains — are also ones which carry a significant risk of altitude sickness.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is actually a term which encompasses three different conditions that occur at high altitudes, the first and mildest being AMS: acute mountain sickness. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 25% of visitors to Colorado (the U.S. state with the highest altitude at 6,800 feet above sea level) experience symptoms of the condition. [1]

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the most common symptoms of AMS include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, a lack of appetite and difficulty falling asleep.[2] Headaches can occur within two to 12 hours of exposure to high altitudes and, in most cases, symptoms last between 12 and 48 hours, only leading to more long-term concerns if you continue to ascend.

It’s thought that AMS primarily occurs due to the way higher elevation impacts your brain. Ascending to a high altitude causes changes in the blood flow to the brain, and in some individuals this can lead to a swelling of the brain tissues.[3] However, most people who experience AMS will find that descending around 1,000 feet will alleviate the symptoms, according the CDC.[4]

Altitude sickness complications

In severe cases however, brain swelling can occur on a more significant scale, leading to a much more serious form of altitude sickness: high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). This form of altitude sickness impacts the blood flow to the brain tissue, preventing the brain from being able to function normally. The tell-tale symptom that AMS has progressed to HACE is ataxia, or loss of balance. Other symptoms include intense fatigue and confusion, and prolonged brain swelling can lead to loss of consciousness or even death.[5]

High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is another possibly life-threatening complication which can result from altitude sickness. It can occur on its own or alongside AMS and HACE. HAPE occurs when fluid collect in the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing.[6] The blood flow of the lungs begins to get erratic and cause more pressure in some pulmonary arteries than others. As the air sacs in the lungs fill up, your ability to oxygenate the blood decreases, causing a greater lack of oxygen.

According to the CDC, symptoms can include headaches, shortness of breath, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, fever, chest pain, fatigue and a mucus cough. It can become fatal even more quickly than HACE.[7]

Treating and preventing altitude sickness

altitude sickness medicationTaking things slowly and giving your body time to adjust is key to avoiding altitude sickness. The CDC advises that you should not travel from a low altitude to over 9,000 feet in a single day. Instead, they recommend increasing your sleeping altitude by no more than 1,600 feet a day.[8]

You should also make sure to stay hydrated and avoid substances like alcohol when climbing.[9] Effective altitude sickness relief medication can help you to travel safely and without worry.

Contact the Express Pharmacy team today by calling 0208 123 07 03 or by using our discreet online Live Chat service.


Taking a Winter Ski Trip? Here’s How to Stay Healthy in High Altitude

Posted Friday 02 February 2018 10:03 by Tim Deakin in Altitude Sickness

Mountain sickness can ruin a winter break, so here’s everything you need to know to stay safe and healthy

After the excitement and indulgence of the festive period, it’s easy to feel a little down for the rest of winter. The weather’s still cold, the nights are still dark, and the celebrations are over. To counteract this, a growing number of us turn to the solution of a winter break to keep the fun going. For many of us in the UK, this means a picturesque ski trip to lift the spirits.

And whilst a ski trip is a great way to break up your winter, it’s important that you know how to ensure sickness doesn’t ruin your getaway. Altitude sickness can strike at any time if you are travelling way above sea level, so here’s all the information you need to guarantee your family a happy, healthy winter ski trip.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness, or acute mountain sickness, is a condition which occurs when you travel to a high altitude too quickly, meaning your body cannot adjust and function properly. As a result, breathing becomes difficult because you cannot take in as much oxygen as you normally would.

Any altitude above 8,000 feet is considered high, meaning the risk of acute mountain sickness is present. However, for most people the condition will occur at heights of 12,000 feet or higher, as at 12,000 feet there are roughly 40% fewer oxygen molecules per breath than at sea level.

If ignored, altitude sickness can result in an emergency medical situation.

Causes of altitude sickness

Factors such as physical fitness, age or sex have no bearing on your likelihood of obtaining altitude sickness when away. You also shouldn’t assume that just because you haven’t suffered from acute mountain sickness when skiing in the past, you won’t suffer from it in the future. Anybody can suffer from the symptoms of altitude sickness at a given time.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

Altitude sickness symptoms can include:

- Dizziness

- Tiredness

- Nausea

- Vomiting

- Headaches

- Shortness of breath

- Loss of appetite

Symptoms of altitude sickness don’t usually develop straight away, often taking between 6 and 24 hours to occur after you’ve been exposed to high altitudes. Symptoms are usually worse at night, and can feel similar to those of a particularly bad hangover.

Altitude sickness prevention

When you are in the UK, it is very unlikely that an individual will suffer from acute mountain sickness as the highest peak — Scotland’s Ben Nevis — is only 1,345 metres high, which is equivalent to 4,413 feet. However, this is the time of year when many of us head overseas for winter ski trips, so it’s more important now than ever to get to grips with prevention and treatment for altitude sickness.

In order to avoid altitude sickness, you should travel to altitudes above 8,000 feet slowly to allow your body to get used to your surroundings. You should also:

- Take 2-3 days to get used to high altitudes before going above 8,000 feet

- Avoid flying directly into high altitudes

- Rest every 600-900 metres you climb

- Avoid climbing more than 300-500 metres in a single day

- Drink plenty of fluids

- Avoid strenuous exercise for the first day of your trip

- Eat light, high calorie meals

- Avoid alcohol and smoking

- Medication for altitude sickness

Acetazolamide is an effective medication for the prevention and treatment of acute mountain sickness. It works by reducing the amount of fluid in the head and lungs, improving breathing and helping us adjust more quickly to higher altitudes. It should be taken initially 1-2 days before entering a high altitude area, and for at least a further two days after reaching your peak altitude.

Acetazolamide is available from Express Pharmacy.

For altitude sickness tablets or other effective NHS-approved medication for a variety of conditions, contact Express Pharmacy. You can use our discreet diagnosis process to find the right treatment for your condition, or call the team on 0208 123 07 03.

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Air Travel Tips: Stay Safe & Healthy When Flying

Posted Monday 17 July 2017 16:12 by Tim Deakin in Jet Lag

Get the most out of your summer holiday by making sure you arrive as happy and healthy as possible

Everybody looks forward to their summer holiday, but few of us are as excited for the plane journey beforehand. Whether you are afraid of flying or just hate cramped, hot conditions, many in-flight experiences leave much to be desired.

Here are a few of our top tips on making international travel as comfortable as possible.

What can you do aboard your flight?

Even the most confident flyer wants to know they’re doing everything they can to stay as safe as possible whilst en route to their holiday destination. Thankfully, there are some simple precautions you can take.

Dress comfortably

Comfort is key when you’re on a plane, especially if you’re on a long haul flight and have restricted movement for hours at a time. Opt for loose, light layers that let your body breathe, and be sure to bring a jumper or cardigan to put on if you feel cold at any point.

Blood clots are one of many people’s biggest fears regarding a long haul flight, so it’s important to prevent restriction on your body where you can, including through your clothing. You may also have seen special compression socks available in airports or travel stores – these are designed to safeguard against deep vein thrombosis and can be a welcome addition to hand luggage.

Listen to the pre-flight briefing

Some people see the safety demonstration at the start of a flight as a chance to switch off, but the information included in this briefing could be life saving if an emergency does occur on your flight.

Be sure to listen carefully to the information being given, paying particular attention to where your nearest exit is and how to put your oxygen mask on correctly.

Get to know your seatbelt

Aeroplane seatbelts are notoriously fiddly, so make sure you’re familiar with the logistics of fastening and unfastening your belt with ease. You should also be paying attention to the seatbelt light above your head, as this will inform you when you need to be in your seat with your seatbelt fastened.

Relax

One of the worst things you can do on a flight is get stressed. Stress increases your levels of cortisol, which boosts your adrenaline and makes you feel restless. This isn’t what you want when you’re spending the next few hours stuck in the same environment. Take your mind off your flight, bring a book or try to sleep, and let your body and your mind relax.

Looking after your health: what is altitude sickness?

One of the biggest risks to your health when flying is altitude sickness, which is exactly as it sounds: feelings of nausea and discomfort when high in the air.

Why do you feel sick when flying?

Altitude sickness is a response to a higher altitude and lower air pressure, which can have a negative effect on the body. This combination means that the air you breathe has less oxygen per breath. It also causes the air to be dryer and water to evaporate faster.

Aside from the obvious sickness, symptoms of altitude sickness can include tiredness, backache, headache, muscle cramp and light-headedness. Certain individuals may be more susceptible to the condition than others, such as people with existing health conditions like heart disease.

What can you do to avoid altitude sickness?

Hydration is key to tackling altitude sickness, as a lack of hydration is a key component of the sickness itself. Drink plenty of water and be sure to avoid caffeine and alcohol.

You should also try to move around aboard your flight when you can. Doing gentle stretches whilst sitting and taking short walks along the aisle can help reduce your risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Finally, you should consider medication to help treat your altitude sickness. Acetazolamide is an effective treatment which reduces the amount of excess fluid in your head and lungs, making it easier to breathe. This medication is available from Express Pharmacy.

Before you set off this summer, make sure you know how to keep you and your family safe when you’re up in the air. For more health queries and concerns, you can contact Express Pharmacy today via our discreet Live Chat tool.

Related Products: Circadin Acetazolamide
Related Categories: Altitude Sickness Jet Lag

Altitude Sickness 101

Posted Tuesday 03 January 2017 14:41 by Tim Deakin in Altitude Sickness

altitude sicknessIf you are the adventurous type and love the outdoors there are few greater thrills than embarking on a trek or a climb. From Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to Khuiten in Mongolia, the Matterhorn in Switzerland to Annapurna in Nepal, there’s no better way to challenge yourself – to be rewarded by stunning views and a life-changing experience.

But while the physical and mental challenges of trekking are to be respected, one of the most important factors that anybody travelling up in the world needs to understand is the effect of altitude on the body. Altitude sickness has little respect for strength or physical fitness and can come in a number of forms. These include:

AMS: Acute Mountain Sickness

Common symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and exhaustion

HAPE: High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

Fluid on the lungs causing breathlessness. Often this is accompanied by a fever and a cough that produces frothy spit.

HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema

Fluid on the brain causing confusion, clumsiness, deterioriating levels of confusion

While cases of HAPE and HACE are extremely dangerous to climbers attempting high altitudes, they usually develop at altitudes of 3,600 metres. Much more common is AMS, which can affect day hikers and climbers at around 2,500 metres, although it is possible amongst those who ascend quickly to a height in excess of 1500 metres above sea level.

What causes altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is related to the thinning of the air as you ascend higher above sea level. The greater the elevation, the fewer the number of oxygen molecules per break. Above 3000 metres, 75% of people will experience mild altitude sickness due to the depletion of oxygen in the body.

Suffering from altitude sickness is not a sign of physical weakness or age. In fact, age, gender and fitness levels have little to do with a person’s likelihood of getting altitude sickness.

Treating altitude sickness

While it is possible to acclimatize to the thinner air at altitude, people should take great care when attempting to spend a prolonged time at a height above 2500 metres. Ascending slowly (less than 500 metres per day) can help and staying hydrated and fuelled at all times is also important. Prescription medications such as Acetazolamide can also be effective in preventing and treating altitude sickness to decrease symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, nausea and shortness of breath.

Buy Acetazolamide now

For those suffering from AMS during an ascent, resting for 24 hours and taking Acetazolamide can help. If the symptoms subside it is safe to continue a climb. However, if the symptoms persevere, it is advisable to descend to a safe level to recover. If you find yourself suffering from HAPE or HACE then you should descend immediately with the help of those travelling with you.

Are there other remedies or medications that can help?

Although there is anecdotal evidence and old wives tales about other treatments and herbal remedies that are claimed to prevent altitude sickness, there are no proven alternatives to Acetazolamide. Indeed, some herbal remedies can have dangerous side effects or simply worsen the problem.

If you wish to discuss the symptoms of altitude sickness or discuss preparations for an upcoming trek further, why not consult one of our pharmacists today. Try our Live Chat facility or call 0208 123 0703.


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