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High Altitude Issues

Important information of high altitude problems in Tibet

What is high altitudes and mountain sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is common at high altitudes, and depends on the elevation, the rate of ascent and individual sensitivity. Most visitors to Tibet will suffer from at least one symptom that will generally disappear through acclimatization in several hours to several days.
Symptoms tend to be worse at night and include headache, dizziness, lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, breathlessness and irritability. Difficulty sleeping is another common symptom, and many travelers have trouble sleeping for the first few days after arrival in Lhasa..

AMS can be very serious, with the most serious symptoms being High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which can be fatal. Symptoms of HAPE include weakness, shortness of breath, even at rest, impending suffocation at night, and a persistent productive cough with white, watery, or frothy fluid. Symptoms of HPCE may include headache, ataxia, weakness, hallucinations, psychotic behavior, coma and loss of memory. Both approach and strike at night and can be fatal! Immediate descent is the surest treatment.

AMS can be lessened or avoided with proper acclimatization, which will also ease and reduce AMS symptoms. A gradual ascent will allow your body to acclimatize to higher altitudes and the decreased oxygen supply. Go no higher 300 – 400 hundred meters (984 – 1,312 feet) daily and have a rest after each 1,000 meter (3280 feet) ascent. Medication also helps to prevent AMS. Mild AMS symptoms can be treated with proper medication. If medication does not relieve the symptoms, go to hospital or evacuate immediately to safe altitude.

The following precautions may help to prevent or lessen the effects of AMS:

    • • Drink plenty of fluids (3 – 4 liters daily at least) and eat carbohydrate food to keep the body properly hydrated.
    • •  Do not over exert and only partake in light activity immediate after your arrival.
    • • Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or take other depressants such as tranquilizers and sleeping pills. These will depress the respiratory drive and limit oxygen intake.
    • • Avoid catching cold before you entering Tibet.

Preventive Medication:
• Diamox (Acetazolamide) have been found helpful. It allows you to breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygen supply. Since it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. The recommendation of the Himalayan Rescue Association Medical Clinic is 125 mg, twice a day (morning and night) but you are recommended to consult your physician for the prescription.
• Hongjingtian –  Tibetan herbs are still good preventive and treatment effects for AMS. Honjingtian (Rhodiola Eoccinea) may help sleep at high altitude and thus increase oxygenation at night.

Suggestions to prevent high altitude in Tibet:

Get as fit and healthy as possible, both physically and psychologically. Visitors having record of heart, lung, other organ problems or anemia should consult their doctor before making the decision to visit Tibet.

Do exercise to improve your fitness before going to Tibet.

      • • Try to avoid catching a cold (frequent hand-washing, good hygiene, etc.)
      • • Make sure to get a good nights sleep the night before flying to Lhasa.
      • • Avoid strenuous activities during your first day in Tibet.
      • • When arriving in the airport in Lhasa, walk slowly, take deep breaths. Take time to acclimatize.
      • • Ascend to higher altitudes gradually. DO NOT ascend any higher if you begin feeling ill!
      • • Drink bottled water
    •           • Prepare AMS medication, in accordance with a doctor’s advice