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Altitude Sickness

Acute mountain sickness (AMS), or altitude sickness, becomes a concern above 2,800m. The symptoms are a headache, feeling breathless on exertion, loss of appetite, nausea, difficulty in sleeping, dry cough, and/or general fatigue and may result in a serious condition.

One drug currently known to prevent AMS is acetazolamide (diamox), which can be taken preventatively or as a treatment; start with 125 mg diamox every 12 hours, with a maximum dosage of 500 mg per day.  However, you should not use this medicine if you have cirrhosis, severe liver or kidney disease, an electrolyte imbalance, adrenal gland failure, or an allergy to acetazolamide or sulfa drugs. It also causes some minor side effects, such as tingling fingers and a funny taste in the mouth.

Natural supplements to prepare the body’s cardiovascular oxygenation process are gingko biloba and chlorophyll, which should be taken (in the form of tablets or drops) consistently at least a couple of weeks prior to your arrival to high altitude.  Ginkgo biloba improves blood circulation and increases saturation in arterial oxygen, allowing the brain to tolerate lower oxygen levels. Chlorophyll increases the amount of red blood cells in your system; the more red blood cells there are, the more opportunities there are for oxygen to be absorbed.

During the trek, go up slowly, take it easy, and give your body time to get used to the altitude.  The body has an amazing ability to acclimatize to altitude, but it needs time. For instance, it takes about a week to adapt to an altitude of 5000m.