Lessons in High Altitude Medicine

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Dr Sandra Leal demonstrates how to use the hyperbaric chamber

A training on high altitude mountain medicine to prevent and treat altitude related sicknesses was organised by the Cryosphere Initiative of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) 15 January 2016 in ICIMOD headquarters. Twenty-five participants learned the health risks and treatment for high altitude and cold-related illnesses and injuries. 

Familiarity about the management and treatment of altitude related sickness can save lives in absence of immediate medical help in the mountains. Experts within ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative and partner institutions work regularly in high altitude, often well above 5000 metres, to collect data on glacier mass balance, snow, weather and hydrological conditions in the region. 

Anna Sinisalo, a glaciologist with ICIMOD who initiated the training said her field work is usually carried out without an accompanying medical professional. 

‘Mountainous terrain and variable weather conditions make it difficult for the teams in the field to rely on immediate evacuation in case of emergency', Sinisalo said. 

Mountain medicine expert Dr Emmanuel Cauchy explains oxygen levels at different altitudes.

Training was tailored to fill the gap between medical professionals and what individual members on expedition can do to help themselves in case of an emergency situation. 

International mountain medicine experts Dr Emmanuel Cauchy and Dr Sandra Leal of the Mountain Medicine Institute for Training and Research (IFREMMONT, France) conducted the training. 

Participants were familiarised with the process of acclimatisation, as well as how to identify symptoms and stages of altitude sickness and other altitude related sicknesses and how to prevent and treat them in field conditions. They learned about the importance of effective communication between the field team members and a medical doctor and preparation and the use of well-equipped first aid kit in the field. 

During the two day training, the participants also received training on the use Gamow bag (an inflatable hyperbaric chamber) and on primary care including the use of backpacks, clothing and trekking poles to make temporary stretchers and bandages. Decision making in an emergency situation was emphasized including the crucial questions about when and how to evacuate. 

Participants were tested on the knowledge they acquired during the course. All felt the training provided them new skills for their future work in the field.

Making a temporary stretcher from items readily available in the field - backpacks.