Combating altitude sickness with unconventional medication
A Redpoint paramedic and physician took part in a medical study over the weekend on California’s third-highest peak to test the effectiveness of steroid inhalers in combating high-altitude sickness, as compared with traditional altitude medications.
The University of California’s White Mountain Research Center operates the Barcroft Station at 12,200 feet (3801 meters) on White Mountain Peak. Along with about 30 other study participants, Redpoint Medical Advisor Rebecca Walker and Client Services Manger Andie Waters, a paramedic, hiked from the base of the mountain up to Bancroft Station on Saturday. The subjects were administered either a steroid, the high-altitude medication Diamox, or a placebo: once at the base and once at Barcroft Station on Saturday night, with physicians administering tests at every stage. On Sunday, the group climbed to the summit, at 14,200 feet.
“A lot of people were feeling sick on Saturday night on the mountain, experiencing some sort of symptoms: nausea and headache, etc.,” Andie said. “It wasn’t a very strenuous climb, in fact it was pretty easy as fourteeners go,” Andie said, “but we did not get a chance to acclimate, going straight from 4,000 to 12,000 feet. That was part of the idea.”
Dave Pomeranz was the on-site physician conducting the Stanford-run study, sponsored by the American Alpine Club, the Wilderness Medical Society an the Institute for Altitude Medicine.
This part of the Sierra Nevada range has a unique topography, as only 85 miles separate the highest point in the contiguous United States — Mt. Whitney, at 14,500 feet above sea level – and the lowest point in the country, Death Valley, at 279 feet below sea level.
The White Mountain Research Center has a long history of high-altitude research. It grew out of a U.S. Navy facility initially dedicated to atmospheric tests, but in 1949, Professor Nello Pace, of UC Berkeley, selected the current site of Bancroft Station for research in high-altitude physiology, and in 1951 the facility was built.
The hangar-like structure was renovated in the 1980s and feels like a time capsule, Andie said, complete with a Sylvester Stallone puzzle and iconic board games from the era.
“It felt like a summer camp from the Eighties,” she said.
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