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Doctors warning people of the dangers of altitude sickness

HIGH UINTAHS – The shocking death of a scout just before his 18th birthday has doctors warning everyone about the dangers of altitude sickness.  It’s suspected that the sickness led to the death of Douglas Julian from Salem.

Doctors say the sickness doesn’t just stem from how high someone goes, but, how quickly they go up.  University of Utah Wilderness Medicine Program Richard Ingebretsen says the symptoms can worsen over a day or two, but, it doesn’t always have to take that long.  He says, “If you go on a tram, in the Alps, you get to the top of the tram, you can have it immediately.”

The sickness can damage the body in two ways.  One, it can cause the brain to swell.  This leads to symptoms like headache, nausea and vomiting.  Ingebretsen says, “As the brain continues to swell, you become uncoordinated, you can’t walk very well and you can’t grab things.  That is a very dangerous sign.”

It can also cause the lungs to swell.  This leads to very different symptoms.  “[You start] couching.  You sometimes get a frothy, pink sputum.”

He says anyone feeling these symptoms should stop their trek up the mountain and should only continue if the symptoms completely go away.  “If they progress and you get worse headaches and worse nausea and you become uncoordinated as the brain swells, you need to go down, immediately,” Ingebretsen says.

Friends and family held a celebration on Sunday, in honor of what would have been Julian’s 18th birthday.