Reverse Altitude Sickness – Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

Hundreds of tourist visit Nepal daily to try out some adventures. Out of many such lists of adventures, trekking is probably the most popular one. Undoubtedly trekking is one challenging adventure. However, it can be very challenging if you don’t gather enough information about the difficulties you can face there.

One of the major problems that one can face during trekking is altitude sickness. Now, you may know what altitude sickness is and generally, when the word “altitude sickness” pops in, we think of it as high altitude sickness. Altitude sickness/high altitude sickness is caused due to the rapid exposure at higher altitude. But, do you know what reverse altitude sickness is? As incredulous as it may sound, it is true. It is a situation where one suffers from low altitude/reverse altitude sickness.

What is Reverse Altitude Sickness?

Trekking to high altitude for days customizes your body as per the climate, now when your move towards the lower altitude without acclimatizing enough, then you might face symptoms of reverse altitude sickness. When you move to lower altitude areas abruptly, then feeling fuzziness, dizzy, mild headaches, long hours of sleep and increased appetite can be experienced. Athletes who have trained themselves at an elevation of 2000-3000 meters travel early if the end of competition lies in lower elevation below 500 meters so they can reach early and adopt the lower altitude environment.

Reverse Altitude Sickness

Causes and Symptoms of Reverse Altitude Sickness

People living in the higher altitude area or have been living for more than six months, then descending in lower altitude areas possess high chances of suffering from reverse altitude sickness. The rapid descent from high altitude is the main cause of reverse altitude sickness.

Many travelers feel dizziness and heaviness because of direct descent from a higher altitude. Your rapid descent in lower altitude triggers a chain of reactions from your body which causes several symptoms of sickness in your body. In the start, you will feel shortness of breath, mild headache and rapid beating of the heart. Hypobaric Hypoxia is the reason for reverse altitude sickness. It is a condition in which your body is deprived of sufficient oxygen to body tissues in quantity as well as molecular concentration. Your tissue mechanism in the body gets contradicted as you move to lower direction, the body tissues that sustained you in the high altitude resulting reverse altitude sickness in you.

In an earlier stage of this sickness, you will feel dizziness, mild headaches and nausea. As you further descend, you will experience breathlessness, chest tightness, and fatigue. Other symptoms are sound of ratting and gurgling while breathing, grey/blue lips and fingernails and heavy frothy coughs.

While suffering from Reverse Altitude Sickness be alert once you face these symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent urination
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
reverse altitude sickness
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Do not make the mistake of taking reverse altitude sickness lightly or daring to ignore it. Reveres altitude sickness is as dangerous as high altitude sickness. It can take a serious turn of your health and can be life-threatening as well. This sickness will increase the blood pressure of your body in the absence of sufficient oxygen in the blood. The rapid pressure in severe level can lead the leakage from the vessels to the brain and lungs. This leakage is called Edema and should not be ignored as it can lead to the death of a person. So as soon as you witness any witness, it will be extremely wise to get medical attention soon.

As there is a very famous and most wise saying “Prevention is better than cure,” the best way to remain away from the dangers of reverse altitude sickness is to adopt the ways of preventing it. The best way to prevent reverse altitude sickness is to let your body adjust to the new altitude as you descend. Do not make any rush and keep your pace as you descent so to avoid any problems. It is important to keep the normal pace because extreme physical stress and overexertion can hype your body to symptoms of reverse altitude sickness, what’s the hurry anyway, you have reached your destination, so take your time, enjoy the view and descent with regular breaks.

Another most important thing is to keep your body hydrated and keep on drinking water from time to time to avoid the water loss from the body in the form of sweat and urine. Also, avoid drinking alcohol, coffee and smoking cigarettes while moving from higher altitude areas.

You can also go to a physician and ask for a medical prescription to prevent altitude sickness. Dexamethasone and Acetazolamide can help you to prevent altitude sickness and keep a steady flow of blood in your body and assist the red blood cells in taking oxygen to all parts of the body.

Now talking about the local Nepalese way of treatment of altitude sickness, they use garlic and cloves for minor symptoms of altitude sickness as they help the flow of blood inside the blood vessels by thinning the blood. So, put garlic and cloves in your list and make sure you have them. But, hey, do not depend on them completely as they are for mild symptoms only.

As many people have suffered altitude sickness, a study was conducted in 2012 regarding the matter; it shows that taking 600 milligrams of Ibuprofen for three times a day is also helpful in decreasing the severity and incidence of altitude sickness. In place of Ibuprofen, you can use Paracetamol as well as it is equally compelling as Ibuprofen

How to acclimatize better to avoid altitude sickness?

Reverse Altitude Sickness

Acclimatization is the best way to remain away from altitude sickness. It is a process in which body adjusts the change in environment like a change in altitude, temperature, humidity, etc. Acclimatization can be from days to weeks given to depending on an individual because as intriguing it may sound, the cause of altitude sickness might not be the same in all person so as the cause differs so does the way of remedy too. However, acclimatization is the best and effective way, but there still are ways which will make the acclimatization better.

So here are some ways you can adopt and follow to acclimatize in a better way:


Do some physical exercise

As I told you, over-exertion and fatigue are also the major cause of reverse altitude sickness. Descending while you are fatigued can be extreme, and you may develop other symptoms too. So, it is better to be prepared with some physical exercise beforehand. A moderate level of physical exercise will put less strain on your body while trekking in different altitude and helps to prevent altitude sickness.

Ascend slowly

Ascending slowly is probably the best way to avoid altitude sickness. Once you have reached the destination and start moving back, most of you might make a rush to be back home, but keeping a certain pace and moving slowly will be wise. Ascending fast will be strenuous for your body, and you end up exposing yourself to reverse altitude sickness.

Drink enough water

Due to the change in altitude, your body loses water and sodium which ultimately leads to dehydration. So make sure your body gets enough water as they provide an added amount of oxygen in blood cells and you can acclimate better in altitude change. Also, exercising will lose water in your body faster, so it is must drink enough water.

Be cautious of diet

Eating whatever in whichever amount will add extra danger on altitude sickness. So make sure to eat high-calorie food items like chocolates and have low salty food as salt will dehydrate your body even more

Get a good amount of sleep

A good amount of sleep is best in every kind of situation, and it is even best while acclimatizing. Our body goes through several adjustments while sleeping and if you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t adapt the altitude change. As a result, you won’t acclimate as much as you need. So, take your time and sleep enough and acclimate to avoid any reverse altitude sickness.

Avoid Alcohols and sleeping pills

Do not do the mistake of consuming any alcohols or sleeping pills if you want to avoid altitude sickness. Alcohols and sleeping pills are respiratory depressants, which will slow down the process of acclimatization process and must be avoided. Don’t take sleeping pills or alcohols, if you are suffering from over-exertion. And, in addition to that, alcohol also cause dehydration and worsens the conditions.  

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