If you’ve spent most of your life at sea level, heading to a higher altitude can be a shock to the system. While not everyone who heads to the mountains will experience symptoms of altitude sickness, it is important to understand the signs and know how to combat the negative effects. Gradually letting your body adapt to the new altitude can help keep these symptoms at bay. If you do start feeling a bit under the weather, however, there are a few easy remedies you can keep on hand.
What Is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness is sometimes referred to as acute mountain sickness and can be felt by anyone whose body isn’t used to being at higher altitudes. Although symptoms can strike at any time while at higher altitudes, they are most often felt when you walk or climb too high too quickly. At high elevations, the pressure of the air drops and less oxygen is available. The body needs time to adjust to the change in air pressure before properly acclimating.
Altitude sickness generally starts to affect people above 8,000 feet (2,500 meters). Symptoms often begin to develop between 6 and 24 hours after reaching high altitudes and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Shortness of breath
It usually takes the body a few days before it begins to adjust to the change in altitude. The best way to avoid experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness is to take things slow. If possible, you should wait two to three days before going above 8,000 feet.
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Once you reach this altitude, you should not climb more than 1,000 to 1,500 feet a day. Be sure to keep yourself properly hydrated and avoid alcoholic drinks and nicotine. Try to avoid participating in any strenuous exercise during the first 24 hours at higher altitudes as well.1 If you still suffer from symptoms of altitude sickness after taking these precautions, there are a handful of ways to ease your discomfort.
Types of Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is frequently misdiagnosed because the symptoms can closely resemble those of the flu or common cold. If you go skiing and develop a headache, you could be feeling the first symptoms of altitude sickness. If you visit a mountain town and start feeling a bit under the weather, it probably isn’t the beginning of a cold. While most altitude sickness isn’t a cause for alarm, you should keep an eye on your symptoms and consult a doctor if they worsen.
There are three main types of altitude sickness: acute mountain sickness (AMS), high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Acute mountain sickness is the most common and has symptoms similar to a hangover or the beginning of a cold. HAPE is the buildup of excess fluid in the lungs, and HACE is fluid in the brain. Both HAPE and HACE are extremely life-threatening. If you experience confusion, shortness of breath while resting, loss of coordination, a cough that produces a frothy substance, or the inability to walk, retreat to a lower elevation and seek medical attention immediately.2
Easy Altitude Sickness Remedies
Minor symptoms of altitude sickness can be remedied on-the-go with a variety of different essential oils. Whether you’re looking to ease nausea, reduce headache pain, breathe easier, or maintain healthy blood circulation, aromatic and topical use of essential oils can go a long way.
Peppermint essential oil is one of the best essential oils to use for headache pain and nausea. One of the easiest ways of using diluted oils on-the-go is to create a roller blend. By pre-diluting your oils in a roller bottle, you can safely apply them topically without worrying about any skin sensitivity.
When you feel a headache coming on, try gently rolling diluted peppermint essential oil onto your temples. If you begin to feel nauseous, roll a bit of the oil onto your lower abdomen and gently massage it in. You can also carry a bottle of pure peppermint essential oil and gently sniff it whenever you need extra relief.
Another great option is to inhale peppermint essential oil through a portable diffuser like Mountain.
Eucalyptus essential oil is another great choice when you feel as though you need extra oxygen. Inhaling eucalyptus oil can help open up your bronchial airways and allow you to breathe easier. You can sniff this oil directly from the bottle or mix it with a carrier oil and gently massage onto your chest.
Thyme essential oil can help maintain healthy circulation, which can increase blood flow to areas of the body that require more oxygen. This is especially important when traveling at higher altitudes. To help increase circulation in the body, dilute thyme essential oil in a carrier oil and gently rub onto the soles of your feet.
Although altitude sickness can cause extreme discomfort, the symptoms can be alleviated naturally if caught early. By easing your way into higher altitudes, staying properly hydrated, and keeping a handful of essential oils on hand, you can enjoy the fresh mountain air with no worries.
Photo credits: RosliakOleksandr/shutterstock.com, BlazejLyjak/shutterstock.com