At very high altitudes above sea level many people start feeling uneasy and sick. They may complain of breathing difficulty, fatigue, headache and nausea, this is called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). It is the most common form of altitude sickness.
The problem can occur at elevations as low as 5000 feet. In such cases intense workout at high altitudes should be avoided. Life threatening condition High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) can have its effects on skiers, hikers and others who go above 8,000 feet high. Rest for 2 to 3 days is necessary before they resume their journey.
The other conditions of altitude sickness are high altitude cerebral edema (HACO), sub acute infantile mountain sickness (SAMS), and chronic mountain sickness (CMS).
Symptoms Of Altitude Sickness Or Acute Mountain Sickness
Symptoms start appearing 12 to 24 hours after arrival and increase during the night.
- Heartbeat increases, and there is shortness of breath accompanied by physical exertion.
- Nausea and giddy feeling.
- Headache is the predominant symptom. The pain is throbbing and generally on the front side.
- Power to think and analyze is affected.
- There is sleeplessness and tiredness.
In more serious conditions such as HAPE, the symptoms are:
- Cough with froth and mucus expectoration from mouth.
- Bloody sputum.
- Chest pain and breathlessness.
- Fast pulse and heart rate.
- Mild to moderate grade fever is present.
- The lips and nails become blue in severe cases.
In more severe condition called (HACO high altitude cerebral edema) the symptoms are:
- All the features of AMS and HAPE
- Blurring of vision
- Slurred speech
- Alteration of consciousness
- Coma in severe cases
Symptoms Of SAMS (Sub Acute Adult Mountain Sickness)
SAMS occur after a continuous stay at extreme altitude for more than 8 to 12 weeks.
- The onset is with gradual increase of breathlessness.
- Chest pain
- Bloody sputum
- Swelling of feet and face
- Reduced urine output
Symptoms Of Chronic Mountain Sickness (CMS)
This occurs in lowlanders who have stayed in high altitude over many years. It is seen more in middle aged males, particularly smokers. The latent period is more than 10 to 15 years before the manifestation of disease. The early symptoms include:
- Loss of memory
- Sleepiness all the time.
- Tingling numbness in hands and feet.
- Hemorrhage under fingernails.
- Bleeding from nose.
- Excessive protein loss in urine.
- If the condition is not better, the patient has to be shifted in hospital.
Causes Of Altitude Sickness
- As you climb higher, too fast, the air becomes thinner and the person inhales less amount of oxygen per breath than required. This causes altitude sickness. Breathe more deeply to compensate.
- Risk increases in people who are obese, fatigued or overwork, abuse of alcohol and narcotics.
How To Prevent Acute Mountain Sickness?
- At high altitudes you feel dehydrated due to deep and fast breathing. So drink maximum water to feel properly hydrated and your urine should be clear. Alcohol causes dehydration so avoid it.
- Leisurely spend your first day at high altitude. Until you get used to the new heights avoid even moderate exercising.
- Acetaminophen can be taken to relieve you from headache. Avoid Aspirin, which worsens headaches at high altitudes.
- Descend a few hundred feet to a lower altitude, for symptoms (sickness) to decrease.
- Oxygen and diuretics may be necessary in some cases where the condition is serious.
- Climb to a new level at the rate of 500 to 1000 feet daily, with an occasional day of rest. Plan well for destinations above 8,000 feet.
- People with severe heart and respiratory ailments should avoid covering extreme altitudes.