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Medical Problems in Amarnath
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Since Amarnath is located in a high altitude area, many pilgrims suffer from altitude related illnesses. Therefore it would be advisable to know something about these illnesses so that pilgrims can seek medical assistance if they feel these symptoms.
Some of the common conditions to afflict pilgrims here are:-
- Acute Mountain Sickness
- High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
- High Altitude Cerebral Edema
- Frost Bite
- Chill blains
Acute Mountain Sickness
This is a very common condition which affects almost all pilgrims who choose to travel by helicopter. The common symptoms of acute mountain sickness are:
- Tingling in fingers and around the mouth
If any pilgrim suffers from these symptoms then they should have Darshan quick and try to return to base on the same day. This condition can be prevented by drinking lots of water and by taking one tablet of acetazolamide (Diamox) 4 hours before taking the helicopter.
The best way to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness would be walk to the top instead of taking the helicopter.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
This is a serious condition resulting from collection of fluid in the lungs. Although this condition is not very common, it does affect a small minority of pilgrims who visit Amarnath. This is a serious condition, and if anybody develops this condition, they must be immediately evacuated back to base. This is the only treatment for this condition. The main symptoms of HAPO are:
- Chest Tightness
- Chest Pain
- Cough with frothy sputum
- Loss of consciousness
Cough with frothy sputum, chest pain and chest tightness are very important symptoms and they should not be disregarded. Therefore if any pilgrim were to suffer from these symptoms, they must seek immediate medical assistance (For information on medical assistance read the page on how to reach) and come back to base.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema
This an extremely rare but life threatening disorder. This is due to swelling of the brain which may cause death within minutes if not treated emergently. Once again the only treatment is to bring the individual to a lower height. The important symptoms of HACO are:
- Ataxia (Inability to walk with balance, the individual may walk as if he is drunk)
- Loss of consciousness
This is another important condition. This generally tends to affect people who are not wearing the right clothes. During the time I was providing medical cover at Cave, I came across many such cases. Most of them can be prevented by wearing the right type of clothes (See Do’s and Don’ts for more info on clothing).
Frost Bite and Chill Blains
Frost bite is a very uncommon condition mainly because the temperature does not dip low enough to cause it and also most pilgrims are never exposed to high quantities of snow and Ice. This is more a problem for the troops who are deployed here. But a basic knowledge is desirable. Frostbite is nothing but damage to the tissues because of excessive cold. The commonly affected parts are the fingers and toes. Initially they are red with blisters which may progress to black colour and finally gangrene.
On the other hand chill blains are an allergic reaction to cold and anybody may suffer from it. It commonly presents with intense itching and redness over the affected parts, commonly fingers and toes. Since this is an allergic reaction and most people stay here for just a couple of hours, it usually does not require any treatment. But if the symptoms are troublesome then a tablet of disprins may be taken to relieve the pain. Application of steroid creams locally may also help.