5 Alternatives to Diamox for High Altitude Mountain Sickness

In my previous article, I addressed the issue of high altitude sickness and the necessary treatments and preventions.

A couple of friends have asked me about Diamox since, so I thought I would share. Again, this is my experience. If you’re considering taking Diamox, get some proper medical advice.

Most trekkers around the world are familiar with Diamox. Diamox of late has become the preferred choice among trekkers. Many trek organizers insist their trekkers take a dose of Diamox before they come for the trek. As a trekker, this makes sense. If trekkers acclimatization is put on an accelerated mode, the less of a headache to manage their well-being. Taking Diamox has become synonymous as taking a pill of aspirin. However, the recent studies have shown Diamox is not an easy pill to handle. Its side effects deter many trekkers to avoid it all together.

There must be alternatives to Diamox for dealing with high altitude sickness. I have listed FIVE of them here.

Ibuprofen

Also known as Advil, Ibuprofen surprisingly is as effective as Diamox for preventing high altitude mountain sickness. A recent study conducted by Dr. Grant Lipman, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine states Ibuprofen can prevent 26% of cases of altitude sickness and help people who are without symptoms to stay without symptoms.

Many trekkers complain of an uncomfortable tingling of the fingers, toes and face, carbonated drinks tasting flat, excessive urination when on a Diamox prescription. Ibuprofen does not come with such side effects as Diamox and Dexamethasone, making it a more attractive, preventive drug in the market. Ibuprofen gets absorbed by the human body much faster than Diamox making it a quick acting drug. One of the more popular Ibuprofen tablets in the market would be Nurofen.

 

Ginger and Garlic

Ginger and Garlic have natural properties to help when suffering from high altitude sickness. Ginger is useful in cases of indigestion and nausea. Asians, particularly Chinese, take ginger tea when they trek at high altitude. I carried a bottle of hot ginger tea with me every day on my recent Daocheng Yading trek. Chewing small portion of Ginger herb while trekking can be very useful too.

Garlic helps in blood thinning. Make small capsules like dosage can help in countering the effect of high altitude sickness on treks. Nutrilite Garlic capsules are readily available in prescription stores.

Beet Juice

Drinking Beet juice can help prevent high altitude sickness on treks. Dr. Svein Erik Gaustad, an author of the study and a professor at Norwegian University of Science and Technology says about Beet juice, “It may be the extra boost your body needs to deliver enough oxygen to your tired muscles and keep you healthy when you are climbing a high mountain.”

At high altitudes, our bodies are less likely to produce enough Nitrate Oxide (NO) as it needs plenty of oxygen. That’s where Beet juice comes in; it’s packed with nitrate, a compound that the body can use to convert into NO. The study is still new, but there is no harm in having Beet juice.

 

Coca Leaves

Believe it or not, chewing Coca leaves is better than having Diamox. Trekkers in latin American countries swear by the magical preventive properties of Coca leaves. Alternatively having Coca leaves tea works as well but not as effective as chewing leaves. Coca has homeopathic properties. Make sure the one you get is without cocaine (decocainized). Coca 200 is a good option to begin with.

 

Gingko Biloba

Limited evidence indicates that an herbal remedy, Gingko Biloba, may prevent altitude sickness when started before the ascent. The usual dosage is 100 mg every twelve hours.

No Drugs

The purist way of dealing with acute mountain sickness is to avoid taking any prescription drugs before hand and monitor the health condition. There is a simple way one can keep track of the symptoms by keeping a scoring tab in the following way.

Score of 1 – 2 = Mild AMS

Score of 3 – 5 = Mid AMS

Score of 6 and more = Severe AMS

(The Lake Louise scoring system*)
Follow preventive measures once the level of AMS is ascertained. A mild AMS can be cured by taking a headache pill. Sometimes the reason for symptoms may be due to dehydration. Have one pill of aspirin along with 1-liter water. This should help in curing the migraine, fatigue. If after an hour there is no relief you would need to be treated for the sickness.

Monitor the person suffering from high altitude sickness by staying in the same altitude for a day. If the symptoms improve, ascend only by 300 – 500 meter a day. This will be a good time to take Ibuprofen. If the improvement is not seen, arrange for an immediate descent. By keeping a thorough monitoring of health condition, one can avoid conditions of high altitude sickness to develop.

If you have other alternatives that help preventing high altitude mountain sickness, do share with me.  In the meantime, happy trekking.

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