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Altitude Sickness Affects 15-40% of Colorado Vistors


by Unknown

February 08, 2001

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

The New York Times today has an excellent article on altitude sickness (Registration required)

Below are excerpts:

In the mountains in Colorado, an estimated 15 percent to 40 percent of vacationers fall victim to mountain sickness each year.

Their complaints are as minor and transient as headache and loss of appetite and as serious as disorientation and breathing difficulty. In extreme cases, comas and even death can occur.

"Altitude sickness is more likely to be a problem anywhere above 8,000 feet, but it can occur at 7,000 feet or lower," said Dr. Charles S. Houston, an author of "K2: The Savage Mountain."

High-altitude sickness may be even more likely to occur today, some doctors believe, because harried lives often do not allow for ascending slowly (the best preventive) and because people do too much too soon.

Dr. Peter Hackett, who has published more than 100 scientific papers on the illness and has studied the incidence and economic cost of acute mountain sickness in Colorado, said that one in 10,000 skiers in Colorado developed complications like high- altitude cerebral edema or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).

Colorado ski resorts lose an estimated $20 million to $40 million a year to mountain sickness, said Dr. Hackett, president of the International Society for Mountain Medicine, a nonprofit organization. Queasy skiers or hikers with severe headaches and no appetite do not buy lift tickets or visit restaurants, bars and shops.

Pulmonary edema, though also life-threatening, can be harder to identify in the early stages, Dr. Zafren said, because the only symptom may be a cough, which is easily confused with a cold or bronchitis.

More severe symptoms, like gurgling sounds and difficulty breathing, are signs of fluid buildup in the lungs and are obvious.

The steroid dexamethasone is an emergency measure that can temporarily relieve the distress of cerebral edema and pulmonary edema. Unlike Diamox, which hastens the body's adjustment to altitude, dexamethasone is first aid for cells injured by the lack of oxygen and the leaky blood vessels that lead fluid to accumulate in the brain or the lungs.

Sherpas in Nepal recommend garlic soup and ginger to prevent and treat mountain sickness, but that remedy has not been subjected to scientific scrutiny. American researchers have begun taking a closer look at another natural remedy, ginko biloba.

Courtesy of The New York Times

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