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Health Tip: Heading Into Thin Air?

What to do for altitude sickness

(HealthDay News) -- Whether you are going to climb Mount Everest or a local peak, you should take precautions against high-altitude sickness.

As altitude increases, the air becomes "thinner," which means less oxygen is in the atmosphere. You get less oxygen in your lungs with each breath, so the amount of oxygen in your blood declines.

Anyone can experience mountain sickness, but it may be more severe in people with heart or lung problems. Symptoms, which usually begin within 48 hours of arriving at high altitude, include headaches, breathlessness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, inability to sleep, and swelling of the face, hands and feet.

The best way to avoid or lessen the effects of mountain sickness is to increase altitude slowly. Climbers and hikers can take two days to reach 8,000 feet, and then another day for each additional 1,000 to 2,000 feet.

The American Heart Association offers these additional suggestions:

  • Avoid strenuous activity for the first day or two.
  • Drink extra fluids.
  • Be careful of drinking alcohol. Its effect is magnified at high altitudes.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medication to help prevent or treat altitude sickness. If you have a heart or lung condition, be sure to get your physician's OK before you climb.
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