Altitude sickness poses a significant challenge for adventurers embarking on the iconic Machu Picchu trek. This comprehensive guide is your key to understanding, preventing, and managing altitude sickness while experiencing the wonders of this ancient citadel.
The Importance of Acclimatization
Acclimatization is the foundation of a successful Machu Picchu trek. Starting in Cusco, already perched at high altitude, it’s vital to spend at least two days in Cusco or the nearby Sacred Valley. This allows your body to adapt to reduced oxygen levels, ensuring a smoother transition to higher altitudes.
Choosing Your Route Wisely
Every path to Machu Picchu involves traversing high passes. Early acclimatization is essential to mitigate altitude sickness risks. If you plan to take the train to Machu Picchu, consider flying into Cusco and descending to the Sacred Valley. This gradual ascent minimizes the abrupt altitude gain that can trigger symptoms.
Understanding Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness typically strikes around the 3,000-meter mark and escalates with rapid ascents. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening conditions. In severe cases, immediate descent is crucial.
Assessing Severity: The Lake Louise AMS Scorecard
The Lake Louise Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) Scorecard is a valuable tool to assess the severity of altitude sickness. By evaluating symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and nausea, it provides a numerical score to gauge the urgency of your response.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
One of the gravest forms of altitude sickness is High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). It results from fluid buildup in the brain and leads to severe migraines, hallucinations, and coordination loss. HACE is a medical emergency, necessitating immediate descent.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is another dangerous variant. It involves fluid accumulation in the lungs, causing breathlessness. HAPE requires prompt descent and medical attention.
Diamox: A Proven Ally
Diamox (Acetazolamide) is a prescription medication proven to aid altitude sickness prevention. It enhances oxygen uptake, facilitates acclimatization, and is recommended after consultation with a healthcare professional.
Ginkgo Biloba: Unresolved Efficacy
Ginkgo Biloba, a natural supplement, is touted as a remedy for altitude sickness. However, its effectiveness remains uncertain, necessitating further research. While it may be worth exploring, it should not replace established prevention strategies.
Coca Tea: Tradition and Uncertainty
Coca tea, derived from coca plant leaves, is a traditional remedy. Some trekkers find it effective, but scientific consensus on its benefits is uncertain. While it can be a part of your strategy, it should not be relied upon as the sole preventive measure.