Mountain sickness guide

Mountain sickness guide ladakh

Altitude  Sickness, also  known as Acute Mountain  Sickness (AMS), Altitude Illness, Hypobaropathy,  or Soroche, is a pathological effect of high altitude  on humans, caused by prolonged and acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude.  It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet). It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of "flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover". It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can ascend to 2,400 meters (8,000 ft) without difficulty.

Ascending  slowly is the  best way to avoid  altitude sickness. Avoiding  strenuous activity such as skiing, hiking, etc. in the first 24 hours at high altitude reduces the symptoms of AMS. As alcohol tends to cause dehydration, which exacerbates AMS, avoiding alcohol consumption in the first 24-hours at a higher altitude is optimal.

Increased water intake also helps in acclimatization to replace the fluids lost through heavier breathing in the  thin, dry air found at higher altitudes. Small nibbles of snacks and chocolates along with increased water intake would help balance the salt percentage in our bodies.

To reduce the incidence of Acute Mountain Sickness, Acetazolamide OR Diamox is sometimes  taken as a precautionary measure, anywhere between 125 milligrams (mg) to 1000 mg per day, starting a few days before going to higher altitudes. Such use is recommended for those ascending from sea level to 3000 meters (9800 feet) in one day, or for those ascending more than 600 meters (2000 feet) per day once above an altitude of 2500 meters (8200 feet). Also, prophylactic use is recommended for those with a significant history of Acute Mountain Sickness. Please do consult your family physician before starting a course of Diamox.

Health department, Leh ensures complete health care facilities in the whole district and getting medical assistance is not a troublesome.  In Leh, there is one district hospital, Sonam Nurboo Memorial Hospital, 1 sub-district hospital in Nubra, 3 primary health centers and 158 sub-centers in different far-flung villages.  

Though you can find the medical aid but it is always advised to take medicines for the common ailments while travelling.  Ladakh, being a high altitude area, make sure you carry an oxygen cylinder to avoid any unfortunate incident. The oxygen cylinder will be easily available at travel agencies. 

Rescue emergency 
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In case of emergency, Government of India through the Ministry of Defense has authorized Indian Air Force stationed in Leh for rescue cum causality evacuation of people in distress.  
The condition attached to the rescue/evacuation includes:

1. An undertaking by the evacuees that the payment of the cost of evacuation will be borne either by the travel insurance company or by the individual concerned.

2. The evacuees are also responsible for reimbursement of loss/damage to the aircraft/helicopter while undertaking the task of rescue causality evacuation, deviation, diversion, return to base and for the liabilities due on above account to Indian Air Force, as well as compensation to any individual including the aircrew which may become payable as a result of an accident.

3. The authorities empowered to place the demand for airlift in case of any casualty required  to fill the following forms by the evacuees for settlement of bills with Indian Air Force headquarter

•           Form of guarantee of full payment
•           Form of acceptance certificate
•           Form of indemnity bond
•           Photocopy of insurance policy card
•           Photocopy of passport

The above forms can be obtained from the Office of Deputy Director, Tourist Reception Centre, Leh or from the nearest administration or tourist office. Aerial evacuation is a costly affair. It is above INR 90,000/-per flying hours and a remote area may cost a few hours. Besides the high operational cost, such mission also calls for daredevil actions and a high degree of skill by the pilot to fly at high altitude amidst rugged mountains. Avail it only in serious distress. In case of bad weather condition, the rescue operation might take time to begin.  

In case of natural disaster, the rescue operation is carried out by the government with no payment.

Recommended Medicines

We usually recommend a small medical kit to be carried by you in addition to your currently prescribed medicines. Here's a check list to make it easier for you to do so.

1.Non-narcotic pain relievers (acetaminophen or paracetamol, ibuprofen)

2. Anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen)

3. Throat lozenges (Vicks Cough Drops or Strepsils)

4. Sunscreen (SPF 30 or SPF 45) and lip protection

5.Minor wound care supplies:

  5.1.Betadine or iodine type disinfectant solution


  5.3.Moleskin or favourite blister remedy

  5.4.Johnson White Tape

  5.5.Nonstick bandages

  5.6.antibiotic ointment

6. Anti-diarrhea medication (Lomotil or other Over the Counter Meds)

7.Antacids (Pudin-Hara or Gelusil or other Over the Counter Meds)

8. Anti-oxidant vitamins

9.10 - 20 bulbs of Raw Garlic

10. A small vial containing Camphor Pellets

11.A Strip of Diamox (Please consult with your Doctor to verify that it does not interfere or react with any other medication you may be already on)

12.ORS (oral rehydration solution) – available in small packets to be reconstituted with water, provides electrolytes for replacing losses from vomiting/diarrhea

13.Personal medications (for pre-existing problem)

14.For women, supplies for menstrual flow

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How many hospitals are there in Ladakh?

Ans.There is 1 District and 1 sub-district hospital in Ladakh. 14 Primary Health Centers and 24 Sub Centers are in Leh District. You will find good medical help in Leh only.

Q2. How long does Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) last?

Ans.Symptoms of AMS either subside within hours or may last up to 2 days. Severe AMS conditions can lead to complications like swelling in the lungs or brain resulting in coma or death.

Q3. How can we avoid suffering from AMS?

Ans.The best way to avoid AMS is by taking a day's rest after reaching Leh. This will help you acclimatize. Also, you can ascend gradually. Take Diamox 24 hours before entering the high-altitude region. It is important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Q4. Can I smoke or drink alcohol in Ladakh?

Ans.It is advised not to smoke or drink alcohol in the higher altitude regions of Ladakh because low levels of oxygen can cause AMS. Medical facilities in such far-flung locations are sparse and it usually takes 1-2 days to come down to Leh for medical emergencies.

Q5. What are some of the medicines to carry on a trip to Ladakh?

Ans.Carry all the medicines for common health problems like headache, fever, cold and cough, joint pain, stomach issues, nausea, vomiting, and headache. You can keep all these in a first aid kit. Make sure to also carry band-aids, Dettol, Savlon, betadine etc. Don?t forget to carry Diamox for AMS.
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