• Modified on Dec 3, 2022

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Introduction of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the mildest form of high altitude mountain sickness, which is a serious effect of high altitude produced by quick exposure to low levels of oxygen at high elevation. Different people can react differently to being at a high altitude. When you are exposed to a higher altitude for an extended period of time, your body experiences a number of symptoms that are referred to as "altitude sickness." Altitude sickness is a common illness when people are traveling to a higher elevation level and are either climbing or being transferred there quickly. The air density and oxygen levels decrease as you ascend higher. The bodies can adapt to the change, but it will take some time.

Headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness are a few common symptoms that may appear. Acute mountain sickness can worsen into high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) with accompanying disorientation or high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) with accompanying shortness of breath. Serious mountain sickness may develop after prolonged exposure at high altitudes. Most cases of altitude sickness occur above 2,500 meters (8,000 feet), while some people experience symptoms at lower altitudes. A history of altitude sickness, intense physical activity, and an abrupt elevation change are risk factors. The diagnosis is supported by those who have more than a slight reduction in activity and is based on symptoms. At high altitudes, it is advised to presume that any headache, nausea, shortness of breath, or vomiting are signs of altitude sickness. Some people are able to go too far too greater elevations without experiencing any negative health effects. It is far more likely that you may have symptoms of altitude sickness if you ascend to a greater altitude in a shorter amount of time. The majority of people only experience symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, stomach upset, and difficulty sleeping. Most climbers adhere to the "Climb High and Sleep Low" principle. The goal is to progressively expose the body to greater and higher altitudes, give it time to acclimate, and then descend to an altitude the body is accustomed to for sleep. In order to aid in the body's adjustment to higher elevations, Adventure-Pulse treks include acclimatization days that involve brief excursions to a higher altitude.

Most trekkers will experience acute mountain sickness, so being aware of the essentials will help ensure the team's safety and that you can enjoy your time in the mountains. With careful preparation and acclimation, it can be avoided. Any trip should be carefully planned, and you should be aware of the closest hospitals and emergency numbers. Whereas, some people have a potentially life-threatening enlargement of their brain, while others develop fluid buildup in their lungs. Going to a lower elevation is the only effective treatment for altitude sickness. Taking things slow while ascending to a higher altitude will help you avoid getting sick from the altitude. There are also several medications that can assist in preventing altitude sickness.

What exactly is the cause of acute mountain sickness?

The force exerted on your body by the weight of the air all around you is referred to as barometric or atmospheric pressure. This pressure diminishes, and there is less oxygen that is readily available as you ascend to more elevated locations. You will eventually adjust to the higher air pressure if you make your home in an area that is situated at a reasonably high altitude. However, if you visit a location that is located at a higher altitude than you are accustomed to, it will take some time for your body to acclimatize to the difference in pressure. You put yourself at risk of altitude sickness whenever you go to an elevation that is higher than 8,000 feet.

Who is at risk of acute mountain sickness?

You are more likely to have symptoms of altitude sickness if any of the following applies to you:

  • You visit a high height while residing at or close to sea level.
  • You use drugs, such as tranquilizers, narcotic painkillers, or sleeping pills. that can slow down your respiration.
  • Dehydration at higher altitudes may contribute to altitude sickness symptoms.
  • You haven't adjusted to the altitude properly.
  • Acclimatization has been messed up by alcohol or other drugs.
  • You've experienced it in the past.
  • You put too much pressure on yourself (overexert)

A risk factor for altitude sickness is NOT a medical condition like asthma, COPD, or heart disease. On the other hand, low oxygen levels at a high altitude might be problematic for people who already have major medical conditions.

What are the signs of acute mountain sickness?

Within a few hours of ascending to a greater altitude, these symptoms may appear. Altitude sickness symptoms and their severity may also be influenced by dehydration since greater altitudes result in a higher rate of water vapor loss from the lungs. The following are a few signs of mild acute mountain sickness:

  • Dizziness
  • Sleeplessness, muscle aches, and headaches
  • Irritability, vomiting, and nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Rapid heartbeat and swelling of the arms, feet, and face
  • Breathlessness after physical activity

What measures can I take after getting altitude sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) symptoms are typically recognizable and treatable. Several of the therapies consist of:

  • Hydration through water
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Resting for at least a day before ascending or descending to a higher altitude
  • Though acclimation is by far the greatest way to prevent AMS, medications like Diamox are useful for easing the symptoms.

Acclimatization is the process by which a person adapts to a change in attitude and stays at the same level of performance in different environments. Among the fundamental guidelines for acclimatization are:

  • When trekking at high altitudes, avoid gaining altitude too quickly by keeping your speed slow.
  • Do not exhaust yourself for the first 24 hours at a high altitude.
  • Take one day of rest or acclimatization for every 900 feet of elevation gain.
  • "Sleep low and climb high." As long as you descend to a lower altitude and spend the night there, it is possible to climb more than 1,000 feet (305 meters) per day.
  • Maintain proper hydration. You need to consume a lot of fluids to stay hydrated because acclimatization is frequently accompanied by fluid loss (at least 3-4 liters per day). There should be plenty of clean urine produced.
  • If you are experiencing some of the AMS symptoms, avoid ascending.

The group must make sure that everyone is sufficiently acclimated to the altitude before ascending higher, keeping in mind that different people will acclimatize at various rates.

What kinds of medications are recommended for severe mountain sickness?

AMS may be treated with a variety of drugs, depending on a doctor's prescription and advice. They consist of:

  • Diamox (Acetazolamide) for standard medical treatment for high altitude illness prevention.
  • Paracetamol and Ibuprofen for headaches
  • Promethazine or other anti-sickness medications for nausea
  • Disprin is used to treat headaches and
  • Dexamethasone, in only the most severe situations

How is acute altitude sickness identified?

Altitude sickness is often self-diagnosed because the symptoms, which include constant nausea, vomiting, and headaches, are usually caused by a sudden change in altitude or the amount of oxygen in the air. You'll be prompted by your doctor to detail your symptoms, routine, and recent travels. Some symptoms, nevertheless, could be mistaken for dehydration. In some severe cases, a professional diagnosis may be needed. 

What are Acute Mountain Sickness's long-term prospects?

Most people who have even a mild case of acute mountain sickness can feel better quickly after going down to a lower altitude. In most cases, symptoms improve after a few hours, although they can remain for as long as 48 hours. Complications, on the other hand, can cause the brain and lungs to swell, which can lead to a coma or even death if your illness is severe and you don't have access to many treatments. Preparing for a trip to a high-altitude destination is a must.

How do you prevent acute mountain sickness?

As one climbs, the air becomes less dense, reducing the amount of oxygen that is taken in by the lungs with each breath. Because the body does not have enough time to adapt to the decreased oxygen level, AMS develops. Mild AMS is a typical occurrence, and the Symptoms are typically easy to recognize. Here are some steps you can take to prevent altitude sickness:

1. Enough Hydration to your body

Simply put, you should always try to drink at least five liters of water every day, no matter what. This is less of a challenge when the temperature is higher and you are perspiring more, but it becomes more difficult when the temperature drops and you are not perspiring as much. It's possible that after a few liters you'll feel adequately hydrated, but the truth is that your body is still working harder with less oxygen and still needs water. Consume a minimum of five liters of water every single day with no exceptions.

In order to avoid getting altitude sickness, it is essential to maintain a healthy level of hydration. Take frequent sips of water while you are climbing. Drinking more water is one of the best things you can do to help your body adapt to living at a high altitude. In high-altitude regions with low humidity, which keeps the air dry, you must drink twice the amount of water as you typically would in order to maintain proper hydration levels.

2. Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages

If you can, you should stay away from coffee, tea, and other drinks with caffeine the day before a trip. Also, stay well clear of alcohol in the hours leading up to your trip. And make an effort to stay away from them while ascending.

Alcohol and caffeinated drinks are things that actually affect our ability to adjust to the increased altitude. "The majority of people travel for fun," but alcohol and caffeinated drinks are things that affect our ability to adjust. Furthermore, these beverages do not actually help you stay hydrated, which is yet another reason to stay clear of them.

3. Climb slowly & steady

Your body will need approximately two to three days of gradually increasing the dose in order to adapt to the changes. Try to avoid traveling directly to high altitudes by flying or driving. Instead, make steady progress up the mountain each day, pausing only to rest before carrying on the following day. If you have no choice but to travel by car or plane, choose a lower altitude and remain there for a full day before ascending further.

When walking, schedule rest stops along the way that is at lower altitudes than your final destination. Every day, you should strive to ascend no more than 1,000 feet, and you should schedule a day off for every 3,000 feet above that you go.

4. Eat enough carbohydrates and a balanced diet while trekking 

We don't get the recommendation to consume additional carbohydrates very frequently. But you will need more calories when you are at a higher altitude. Therefore, remember to pack a lot of nutritious snacks, including a lot of whole grains.

Eat a diet that is higher in carbohydrates. Because carbohydrates require less oxygen for digestion than fats do, they can help reduce the symptoms of acute mountain sickness.

5. Enough Acclimatization & Rest

You will acclimate better if you introduce yourself to higher altitudes and then return to a lower level to sleep. After establishing camp, climb a neighboring hill to take in the view and then descend to get a better night's sleep. Utilize your leisure days to hike up to higher heights and back down; even a few hundred vertical feet are worthwhile. This rule becomes much more crucial at higher altitudes, roughly 10,000 feet and above because your body is adapting to a lot less oxygen.

Most of the time, the symptoms of altitude sickness are worse at night because you are sleeping. If you intend to climb more than 1,000 feet in a single day, it is a good idea to climb at a higher altitude during the day and then return to a lower altitude to sleep. This is especially true if you plan to climb during the day.

6. Medication

Usually, medicines aren't given ahead of time unless they are absolutely necessary, like when flying or driving to a high altitude. There is some evidence that taking acetazolamide, which used to be sold under the brand name Diamox, two days before a trip and while on the trip can help prevent altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide is a drug that is usually given to people who have glaucoma and are being treated for it. But because of how it works, it can also help people avoid getting sick from being at a high altitude. To get it, you will need a written prescription from your primary care doctor.

It is also important to know that you can get altitude sickness symptoms even if you are taking acetazolamide. The medication will not alleviate your symptoms once they have already begun to appear. The only treatment that will be effective is descending to a lower elevation as quickly as possible.

7. Proper oxygen enrichment

Oxygen enrichment can reduce altitude sickness' hypoxia-related symptoms. In climate-controlled spaces, supplementary oxygen reduces altitude. At 3,400 m (11,200 ft) (67 kPa or 0.66 atm), increasing the oxygen concentration by 5% with an oxygen concentrator and an existing ventilation system gives an approximate altitude of 3,000 m (10,000 ft) (70 kPa or 0.69 atm), which is easier for people who are used to high altitudes to handle.

Gas or liquid oxygen can be applied by nasal cannula or mask. Using electricity, oxygen concentrators based on PSA, VSA, or VPSA can create oxygen. Stationary oxygen concentrators use PSA technology, which degrades at high elevations. Use a higher-flow concentrator to offset performance loss. Portable oxygen concentrators can run on vehicle DC power or internal batteries, and at least one commercial system compensates for altitudes of up to 4,000 m. (13,000 ft). 

8. Be Aware of Your Strength and Body

By following the recommendations, you'll boost your chances of remaining healthy on your trek, but everyone reacts differently to altitude. Every hike should include rest days, and you should use them. Hydrate, apply sunscreen, and wear layers for sun protection. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Keep an eye on your health and always let your group know if you have any concerns.

75% of people have altitude-related headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and sleep problems. These are mild signs of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Mild AMS symptoms should diminish with acclimatization. In general, it's safe to keep climbing and keep it up at a moderate pace even when experiencing minor symptoms. If you keep feeling bad or it gets worse, you should turn around.

9. Consult your doctor before ascending

You must consult your doctor before traveling if you're considering visiting a high-altitude area. Talk to your primary care doctor ahead of time about your worries about high elevations. This is especially important if you have had symptoms of altitude sickness in the past or if you have a long-term condition like lung or heart problems.

In the event of a medical emergency, it is also a good idea to become familiar with the locations of the local medical facilities. This is your alternative course of treatment in the event that your symptoms become more severe. In addition, the majority of hotels in high-altitude areas provide oxygen in the event that an emergency arises.

10. Yoga, Meditation & Breathing Exercise 

Regular practice of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can also be beneficial in warding off acute mountain sickness. If you are able to maintain control of your breathing while climbing to higher elevations and while you are there, you will be able to lessen the effects of mountain sickness. If you get into the habit of doing some breathing exercises and yoga each morning before you go, you'll find that it makes the transition to the higher altitude much easier.

These are easy things that you can do that may help prevent symptoms, or at the very least, they will provide you with a strategy in case something goes wrong.

Conclusion 

Everyone's body responds differently to high altitudes, making it difficult to forecast how yours will. The best way to protect yourself from altitude sickness is to take it slow and steady on your ascent and to prepare yourself by putting the advice from this article into practice. Before going to a high altitude, you should talk to your primary care doctor if you have any health problems, like diabetes, heart problems, or trouble breathing. If you suffer from altitude sickness when you have these problems, it could lead to extra issues. For more details about the experience of acute mountain sickness and its preventive measures from our ground working team, please feel free to contact us anytime.

Ashmita Thapa

Ashmita Thapa

Ashmita is a content writer who is also passionate about photography and nature. She recently entered this field and is excited about traveling and discovering new destinations in Nepal. She had often wondered what the mountains would actually look like, having been born and raised in the capital city.