What is Altitude Sickness?

What is Altitude Sickness?

Published on Nov 29, 2023

Mountaineering is an exhilarating and enjoyable outdoor activity that puts your physical and mental limits to the test while offering some of the world’s best views.  But climbing into the mountains carries some inherent risks, just like any other pastime. Altitude sickness is the most common risk among these. 

Altitude sickness can be as mild as acute mountain sickness, or AMS for short. Rapid exposure to low oxygen levels is the cause of acute mild shock (AMS), which usually first manifests itself above 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) in elevation.

Since many of the symptoms of AMS are similar to those of a cold, the illness may be misdiagnosed due to incomplete information.

Although the majority of AMS cases are not extremely severe, the illness can worsen and eventually lead to high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) if treatment is not received.

HAPE is characterized by a buildup of fluid in the lungs and is characterized by coughing up a lot of moisture and shortness of breath. Similar in nature, HACE is brought on by a build-up of fluid in the brain that presses against the skull, creating excruciating headaches.  

Because HAPE and HACE are nearly always secondary to AMS and are far more challenging to cure, it’s critical to recognize the early signs of altitude sickness and understand how to avoid it.

What causes Altitude Sickness?

The combination of decreased oxygen levels and decreased air pressure at high altitudes results in Altitude sickness.

As you ascend higher into the atmosphere, the amount of oxygen molecules in each breath decreases, requiring the body to expend more energy to compensate, leading to the symptoms of Altitude sickness (AMS).

All people are vulnerable to AMS. However, some people are more prone than others to get the condition due to certain risk factors.

AMS is more common in people who live at sea level, have already experienced the sickness, or have a medical condition affecting the heart, lungs, or central nervous system.

The danger of developing altitude sickness (AMS) is further increased by climbing too quickly without allowing enough time for acclimatization, drinking alcohol, and using other recreational substances.   

Physically healthy people are not impacted by AMS, despite the fact that certain people may be more susceptible than others. This is a common misconception. This is untrue, and in fact, those who are physically active are more likely to have the disease. Since they are more inclined to ignore the symptoms and keep going up.

What are the symptoms of Altitude Sickness?

AMS is linked to a broad spectrum of symptoms. The degree of the symptoms you encounter will primarily rely on how fast and how hard you climb the mountain, in addition to any additional preconditions you may carry with you (e.g., being at sea level, having pre-existing lung diseases, etc.).

Usually, the initial stage of symptoms is quite modest. The ideal time to catch them and head back down to lower altitudes is now. But as the symptoms linger, they usually get worse and the adverse effects of AMS get worse.

How to prevent Altitude Sickness?

Before embarking on a climbing excursion, there are a few crucial precautions you should take. To lessen your risk of developing Altitude sickness, or a more severe type of altitude sickness.

Getting a physical from the doctor is the first step. Ascertaining whether you have any underlying medical disorders. Moreover, which could increase your susceptibility to altitude sickness (AMS) or recognizing the ones you do will enable you to develop a plan for a safe ascent.

Additionally, doctors might recommend medications to aid with your adjustment. But never attempt self-medication; instead, get specific instructions from your doctor regarding when and how to take medication before climbing.

The recommended course of action after seeing a doctor is to start the acclimatization process by spending a few days at 3,000 meters (9,850 feet) above sea level, then gradually increasing your altitude. Make sure to give yourself a little more time to acclimate. If you experience any of the minor symptoms of AMS. It is preferable to turn around if these do not begin to improve. 

After three thousand meters, it is advisable to go up gradually. A lot of guides advise taking an itinerary that sleeps low but climbs high. Furthermore, a lot of specialists advise against sleeping higher than 500 vertical meters (1,640 feet) above your starting elevation for the day.

It’s crucial to stay hydrated in addition to acclimating properly since everything your body accomplishes at altitude needs even more water than usual. Recall that you are already dehydrated if you experience thirst.

Lastly, before you begin your day of trekking or climbing, be sure you’re in good health. You should not continue if you wake up in the morning with a headache or any other AMS symptoms. Because you most likely already have the illness. 

How to treat Altitude sickness?

When treating Altitude sickness, early diagnosis is crucial, just like with any other ailment. Early on in the condition, AMS is always easier to manage.

The simplest way to treat it in its mildest forms is to just move as fast as you can down the mountain to lower heights. The symptoms should go away on their own after you’re out of the danger zone.

However, giving more oxygen might be required if the symptoms don’t go away. Only a professional mountain guide or another person with additional oxygen administration training should perform this.

When AMS attacks get more severe, patients may need to be admitted to the hospital and given medical attention. Some medications, such as acetazolamide and dexamethasone, can be given if the weather. Other circumstances make it impossible to do so; however, this should only be done as a last option.

Hyperbaric chambers that are portable offer an alternative. These allow you to replicate air conditions nearer sea level without really requiring the patient to be moved there.

There are many excellent causes to visit the mountains. But it’s also critical to be aware of all possible risks and take all reasonable precautions to reduce them. 

Hiring a qualified mountain guide is one of the best things you can do. And Peak Climbing in Nepal is the ideal location to accomplish it.

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