Travel & Altitude Sickness

Travel sickness, also known as motion sickness, is usually a combination of unpleasant symptoms experienced when travelling by car, plain, train or boat. Travel sickness can cause you to feel sick, lightheaded and may also cause a cold sweat. Altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness, happens when you ascend to high altitudes too quickly. As you are not able to then take in as much oxygen, this causes breathing difficulties, headache and nausea.

Travel & Altitude Sickness
Additional Information
What is Travel Sickness and how is it caused?

Travel/motion sickness is a feeling of nausea triggered by movement – usually in a car, bus, train, plane or boat. Sometimes you can actually be sick, as opposed to just feeling nauseous, but not often. The initial symptoms of travel sickness include breaking out in a cold sweat, pale skin, dizziness, nausea, and yawning.

Travel sickness is caused due to a conflict with what your eyes are seeing and what your inner ears are sensing, and mixed messages are sent to your brain. Your brain contains information on where you are and how you are moving about.

Your eyes and vestibular system continuous feed updates to the brain. The vestibular system is a network of nerves, channels and fluids in your inner ear, providing a sense of motion and balance to the brain.

If there’s a mismatch of information between these two systems, your brain becomes confused and cannot update your current ‘status’, resulting in the symptoms of travel sickness.

What is Altitude Sickness and how is it caused?

Altitude sickness, also called mountain sickness, is the term given to various symptoms that can affect people who climb or travel (ascend) to more than 2500 metres (8,000 feet) altitude above sea level.

It is primarily caused by the rapid exposure to low amounts of oxygen at high elevation.

There are three kinds of altitude sickness, which are usually graded:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is both the mildest and most common type of altitude sickness. People have compared AMS to feeling hungover, with symptoms including dizziness, headache, muscle aches and nausea.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) meanwhile is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that can be dangerous and even life threatening.

The most serious form of altitude sickness is High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), occurring when there’s fluid in the brain. HACE can be fatal and requires immediate medical assistance.

Generally, those who live in areas of moderately high altitude, will become accustomed to the air pressure. However, for those who decide to venture to somewhere at a higher altitude than normal, their body may struggle as it needs time to adjust to the different pressure. Any time you are 8,000 feet or more than sea level, can be at risk for altitude sickness.

Treatment for Travel Sickness

Mild cases of motion sickness can usually be improved with simple techniques such as distracting yourself by listening to music, getting plenty fresh air, relaxing and fixating on a stable object in front of you such as a window or the horizon.

If you get travel sickness often due to travelling frequently for example, you may benefit from travel sickness tablets available to buy online from Medical Specialists®. Our effective medications will work to prevent travel sickness from developing and are to be taken before starting your journey, allowing you to enjoy the travel in peace without running to the nearest toilet to be sick!

Treatment for Altitude Sickness

If you have a planned trip and know it will be above 2,500m sea level, it is good to prepare beforehand. One of the most effective ways of preventing altitude sickness is to travel to altitudes above 2,500m slowly. Try to take 2 or 3 days for your body to get used to higher altitudes before ascending above 2,500m.

Moreover, although the general advice is to avoid flying directly to the places of high altitude to begin with, this is not always practical. Therefore it’s best to well prepared.

You should also consider travelling with altitude sickness medication. Acetazolamide can be used to both prevent and treat high-altitude sickness. Although it is not licensed to treat altitude sickness in the UK, the medication can be prescribed ‘off label’ for such a purpose.

It’s also handy to have some Ibuprofen and Paracetamol on standby in case you experience headaches at high altitudes, and anti-sickness medicine, such as promethazine, can ease nausea.

If you begin to feel severe symptoms of altitude sickness that are not going away, contact emergency services immediately and when it is safe to do so, return to a lower altitude.

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