The Mont-Blanc

Sickness, nausea and other problems

Mountain sickness, tetanus, electrocution and other health risks for excursionists


Mountain sickness

This sickness can occur at altitude if you climb too rapidly, and the initial symptom is a headache that, when coupled with symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, fatigue and weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness, insomnia and irritability, should pinpoint the diagnosis right away.

What to do:

  • The first and most effective remedy is to climb down to a lower altitude, especially when preparing to pass the night. It is critical, in fact, to sleep at a lower altitude than the maximum altitude reached during the day's climb;
  • Another helpful tactic is a high carbohydrate diet, which ensures more energy and oxygen than provided by lipids and proteins;
  • It is important to consume large quantities of liquids in order to restabilize your metabolic consumption;
  • More severe cases may require medical intervention.


Even today this illness is nearly incurable, which makes it especially important to take the necessary precautions. It is contracted through contact with tetanus bacillus spores (a microorganism common to the intestines of herbivores) which can be encountered in mulch, mud, shards of wood and rusty metal. This microorganism favors reproducing itself in particularly dirty and poorly disinfected wounds, and the resulting sickness affects the nervous system and causes painful contractions of muscle groups that can lead to respiratory paralysis.

What to do:

  • Prevention is the only effective tool: check your last vaccination date (mandatory every 10 years) and stay up-to-date with booster shots.


Electrical shocks from lighting strikes cause different kinds of damage: burns, violent involuntary muscle contractions, fractures, ventricular fibrillation (alteration of the cardiac rhythm - cardiac arrest). In the most serious case of cardio-respiratory arrest, rapid intervention in the form of cardiac massage and artificial respiration is required (the Basic Life Support - B.L.S. course is recommended).

Snake bites

This type of incident is only moderately dangerous and is not nearly as threatening as many believe. The poison dosage injected by the animal, in the worst of cases, amounts to about half of the lethal quantity for adults (the risk is higher for children and individuals in a weak state of health).

The snakebite serum, which used to be considered an essential provision for hikers, is used rarely now and only by specialized medical experts (given the high risk of anaphylactic shock and the difficulty of distinguishing poisonous from non-poisonous snake bites). The effects of the poison reach their peak about 3 to 4 days after being bitten, which means there is usually plenty of time to take action. The main factors that determine the danger level are:

  • The concentration of the poison (lower in the fall and shortly after another bite);
  • The vascularization of the bite zone (higher risk when bitten near arteries - neck face, internal thigh... - lower risk for peripheral zones - feet, hands...);
  • Presence of bacteria on the animal's teeth;
  • Motor activity of the victim after the bite (better to limit movement as much as possible to reduce vascular activity, which accelerates the spread of the poison).

What to do:

  • DO NOT cut the wounded tissue: given the smallness of snake teeth, there is a fairly low chance that the poison has entered into circulation. An incision, on the contrary, could actually increase contact with the blood and worsen a situation that was not that serious.
  • Sterilize the affected zone;
  • Wrap and immobilize the region or part of body that was bitten in order to reduce circulatory activity;
  • If the bite victim is less than 7-8 years in age, get them to a hospital as soon as possible.


These are spastic contractions of one or more muscles that can last up to 10 minutes or longer and cause pain lasting for several days.

Cramps develop from an imbalance in the ratio of mineral salts to extracellular liquids (e.g., lack of potassium, calcium, magnesium or sodium) and are promoted by high outside temperatures, poorly oxygenized muscle tissue and fatigue. Under these conditions, the muscle contracts in an involuntary and often painful manner.

What to do:

  • Depending on which muscle has contracted, position the victim in a way that lengthens the muscular fascia in question;
  • Massage is less effective and, after an acute episode, can increase residual pain;
  • Drink sugary liquids (maximum 7% by volume) containing sodium chloride (NaCl - table salt, one gram per liter).

State of shock

This is a serious, common situation with the wounded in which various organs enter a state of crisis because of reduced blood flow. This happens often in cases of internal or external hemorrhaging and multiple severe injuries (even in the absence of overt hemorrhaging).

The most significant symptoms are:

  • Paleness and cold sweats;
  • Heart rate - very high in frequency but weak in intensity;
  • Rapid, shallow breathing;
  • State of agitation or, sometimes, sleepiness.

What to do:

  • Call for help;
  • Try to alleviate the pain (which increases the shock);
  • Keep them warm;

If possible, transport the victim with the head held lower than the feet (to facilitate blood and oxygen transport to the brain).