One of the biggest health hazards for the trekkers going for pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave situated at a height of 13,500 feet in the Himalayas is Acute mountain sickness (AMS) which affects the brain and lungs.
Acute mountain sickness typically affects people who pretend to ‘conquer’ mountains and try to push their bodies beyond the limits of physical endurance without giving them time to adjust to the atmospheric changes at high altitude.
The pilgrims who embark on the arduous journey to Amarnath have to brave the extreme cold, low humidity and increased ultraviolet radiations and reduced air pressure.
Acute mountain sickness is one of the most common forms of mountain sickness. Its symptoms include breathing problem, headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, dizziness and difficulty in sleeping. It affects climbers due to reduced air pressure and lack of oxygen at altitudes above 2,500 m.
High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACO) is a severe form of Acute mountain sickness. It is caused by swelling of the brain tissue that results in impairment of brain functions. It is caused by the accumulation of fluid in the lungs which results in respiratory failure and sudden coma or death within hours. Its symptoms include increased heart rate, difficulty in breathing, persistent dry cough, weakness, headache, fatigue, visual impairment, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, disorientation and partial paralysis.
The symptoms of HAPO get worse at night. Young people who tend to exert more, ignore minor fatigue and show off physically fitness are more likely to be its victims typically on the second night of the climb in high altitude areas.
Here are some common Do’s and Don’ts to prevent Acute mountain sickness
1. Consult with your doctor before planning the pilgrimage. Ensure that you are fit for the strenuous trek and that no pre-existing medical condition may get aggravated.
2. Allow your body to acclimatize- take it easy for the first 24-48 hours before climbing higher
3. Do not take any medicine without proper medical advice in high altitude conditions.
4. Dehydration is the biggest enemy at high altitudes, so consumption of a lot of liquids.
5. Eat a carbohydrate-rich diet
6. Carry portable oxygen in case of difficulty in breathing.
7. People who develop AMS symptoms should be immediately brought to a lower altitude and treated by a qualified doctor
8. Don’t disregard any symptoms
9. Avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, smoking, sleeping pills and strong painkillers during the trek
10. Don’t sleep at a place that is 300 m or more than the altitude of the place at which you slept on the previous night.