Nima Wangdi  

The country has recorded an increase in the number of people suffering from high altitude sickness requiring airlifts since April this year.

The emergency medical services division record shows that 19 people were airlifted since April to date. May saw the maximum number of cases with 10.

Officiating chief of the division, Ugyen Tshering said that the number of high altitude sickness cases in the past was few.

He attributed the increase to more people going hiking and also those collecting cordyceps in the mountains. “Besides the cordyceps collectors, there were more hikers and pilgrims, especially during the school midterm break.”

However, he said that there was nothing to worry about.

He said that the division plans to train all the health assistants close to the high altitude areas like Khoma, on the way to Singye Dzong in Lhuentse, Laya and Lingzhi on how to manage high altitude sickness cases.

“We have a plan ready but could not implement it for now due to financial constraints,” he said.

Once the health workers are trained, it will not only benefit our communities but also the tourists visiting high-altitude areas according to Ugyen Tshering.

“There have also not been many fatalities from the high altitude sickness so far,” he said.

High altitude sickness prevention

Travel advisory for high altitude sickness from the health ministry stated that people should avoid sudden travel to high altitude areas (2,500 meters and above) without practising for a few days.

“Headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhoea, sleep disturbance, fatigue and shortness of breath are some of the early symptoms of the high altitude sickness that the people should understand,” the advisory stated.

People should also avoid climbing 600 meters a day, and drink enough water according to the health advisory. “Smoking and alcohol must also be avoided while climbing high-altitude areas.”

The travel advisory stated that if a person suspects high altitude sickness, they should rest where they are or descend 1,000 meters from where they actually halted if the symptoms remain persistent or get worst. “People should also immediately call 112 for medical help.”

The ministry advised people not to climb higher for at least 24 to 48 hours if they suffer altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is a general state of feeling unwell characterised by symptoms such as headache, loss of appetite, and restlessness in mountains. This can occur when a person travels to elevated areas, causing the body to respond adversely to low oxygen levels (hypoxia).

Anyone can get altitude sickness irrespective of age, sex and general health. The person is at a higher risk if they have underlying health issues according to the experts.