How can I avoid getting high altitude sickness?
If you're planning to travel to Tibet, the first and perhaps most important thing to understand is altitude sickness and how to prevent it. If you're a mountain enthusiast and an avid trekker, this concept might not be new to you. However, if you're venturing to high altitudes for the first time, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with this phenomenon.
High altitude sickness, also referred to as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that can affect many individuals when they ascend to high altitudes too quickly. Altitudes above 8,000 feet (approximately 2,400 meters) above sea level are typically considered high. So, what causes high altitude sickness? As you climb higher, the air becomes increasingly thin. While the oxygen content in the air remains consistent at 20.9% across all altitudes, the reduced air pressure at higher elevations gives the sensation of there being less oxygen.
Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, stands at an elevation of 11,975 feet (3,650 meters) above sea level, making it the highest city in the world. Given its altitude, Lhasa has an effective oxygen level of 13.2%. As you travel further into Tibet, the elevation increases. For instance, Everest Base Camp is situated at 16,900 ft (5,150 meters) above sea level, and is categorized as very high altitude, boasting around 11% effective oxygen.
How to avoid getting high altitude sickness
Now that you're more informed about high altitudes, it's essential to understand how to maintain your health when traveling at elevated levels.
Listen to Your Body
The foremost advice is to be in tune with and heed your body's signals. If you feel unwell, it's a clear sign, and it's crucial not to overlook it.
The initial indicators of altitude sickness are headaches and nausea. If you experience either of these symptoms, consider taking medication, slowing down, and resting. Other symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping.
Remember, altitude sickness can be life-threatening. Always take symptoms seriously. Your body will invariably signal when something isn't right.
Acclimatization is Key
To minimize the risk of high altitude sickness, proper acclimatization is pivotal. Ascending to high altitudes slowly and progressively can prevent AMS. Avoid elevating from a low to a height greater than 8,000 ft within a single day. If feasible, spend one or two days at that particular altitude to allow your body time to adjust. Afterward, you can proceed to even higher altitudes. For instance, if you're traveling to Tibet and wish to explore destinations like Everest Base Camp, or perhaps engage in trekking, we advise spending at least two days in Lhasa for acclimatization. This interval also offers a fantastic opportunity to visit prominent sites in and around Lhasa.
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is crucial at high altitudes. Dehydration can either mirror the symptoms of AMS or intensify them. Aim to consume 3-4 liters of water daily. However, sip water gradually throughout the day; for instance, downing 1 liter all at once could be counterproductive. Also, moderate your coffee intake, as it can lead to dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink two glasses of water for every cup of coffee consumed.
To reduce the risk of high-altitude sickness, it's advisable to abstain from all alcoholic beverages. If you do wish to have a drink, refrain from doing so at least 48 hours before ascending to a higher altitude.
Prioritize Rest Before heading to high altitudes, avoid vigorous physical activities for at least two days. Engage in restful activities: sleep, read, meditate, or do other calming practices that your body will benefit from.
While some people avoid carbs, not all carbohydrates are detrimental to health. Opt for healthier carbs like oats, quinoa, whole grains, chickpeas, bananas, and beans. Pack snacks rich in beneficial carbs. Carbohydrates are digested more easily by the human body compared to fats or proteins and provide the sustained energy essential at elevated altitudes.
Consider Medication Taking
Diamox (acetazolamide) two days before embarking on a high-altitude journey can help mitigate the risk of altitude sickness. However, remember that Diamox is available only with a medical prescription. Additionally, antioxidants like vitamin C might also aid in warding off AMS.
Use Supplemental Oxygen
When traveling to particularly high-altitude locations, supplemental oxygen may be offered. If you experience altitude sickness, supplemental oxygen can help alleviate symptoms.
Successfully avoiding high-altitude sickness primarily hinges on thorough trip planning, adequate preparation, understanding your destination's specific conditions, and attentive listening to your body's signals.