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There is less air at higher altitudes. If you suddenly move from a low to a high altitude, you may feel unwell, because less oxygen reaches your body's tissues. Symptoms associated with this are called mountain sickness.
Mountain sickness affects climbers, hikers, or skiers as well as people flying into airports at high altitude because this does not allow acclimatisation.
Reduced atmospheric pressure and oxygen pressure at high altitude are causes of this illness. It is mainly caused by too rapid an ascent. It affects the nervous system, lungs, muscles and heart. Holiday flights straight into airports at high altitude, which do not allow time for acclimatisation also cause mountain sickness. For example Le Paz in South America and East Africa.
Symptoms occur due to our body not adapting well to having less oxygen at high altitude. They include:
For mild symptoms, you can stay at the same altitude to allow symptoms to subside, before ascending. If symptoms worsen, you should consider descending.
For severe symptoms, descent must begin as soon as possible. Helicopter evacuation may be essential. This is to avoid physical exertion, which can prove fatal for a sufferer. Hospitalisation may be required in severe cases. Supportive measures include oxygen by mask or by mechanical ventilation.
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