Sunday, June 24, 2007

Gear Up For Hiking- Tips on Staying Healthy on the Trail

Hiking is one of the best pastimes you can imagine: it's good for you and just about anyone can do it, since there are so many different levels of trails out there. However, no matter how fit you are, there are some medical problems you could encounter in some situations. This is a quick run-down of the most common environmental hiking hazards, and how to deal with them. There are environmental hazards, traumatic injuries, animal & insect dangers and, believe it or not, infectious diseases. However, we are only dealing with the environmental hazards here.

Environmental hazards would be things like altitude sickness. This is caused by lack of oxygen which occurs at high elevations (over 8000 feet). Most people are affected by altitude sickness, and a more severe form is called Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS for short. In short, less oxygen in the air means your muscles and brain aren't getting as much oxygen. This makes the heart and lungs work harder to compensate, in order to get the required oxygen to the brain and muscles. Symptoms of AMS are dizziness, loss of appetite, hard time sleeping, headache, 'laziness'. AMS can get worse without warning, and you can die from it. When it gets worse, you get breathlessness, coughing up pink stuff, severe headache, loss of balance and coordination, vomiting, acting irrational, and unconsciousness. If you think you have AMS, stop hiking and rest. Rest for a day or two. Take aspirin for the headaches. If your symptoms get worse, go back down the mountain immediately. There are some controversial drugs to prevent AMS, but they can mask the warning signs altogether. Prevention is better with slow ascent, keeping hydrated, keep snacking on carbs, don?t drink alcohol or take sedatives.

Fungal infections are another type of environmental hazard to hiking. This goes especially for backpackers, who may not have as many opportunities to wash clothing as they normally would. You can get a fungal infection like athlete's foot (tinea). This shows up between the toes. Moisture is your enemy in this situation. To prevent a fungal infection, wear clothing that allows your skin to breathe. Tight clothes made of artificial fabrics that don't wick away the moisture are to be avoided. If you are backpacking and stay at a campground, wear sandals in the shower area so you don?t catch it from another hiker. In general, wash your clothes and towels in hot water and dry thoroughly.

Our final environmental hazard for hikers is heat exhaustion. Dehydration contributes to heat exhaustion, as does a salt deficiency. Sweating a lot in the hot sun causes your body to lose salt as well as liquid, so drink lots of water. A little extra salt on your lunch should be enough supplement for the salt deficiency problem No need to eat salt tablets. Athletic drinks or sports drinks as they?re sometimes called have the replacement salts, too.

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