AMS is a subject on which one must have the knowledge to do activities in the mountains that include Hiking, Climbing, Skiing, etc. Sometimes it’s inevitable however, proper care and precautions always help. Here we have covered some major points about AMS and myths regarding it.

What is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) also known as Altitude sickness, is a condition that happens due to the sudden change in elevation, generally at a higher elevation. It is not a disease, it is a condition that occurs when your body is not able to adjust to the changing environment.

What are the causes of AMS?

AMS is primarily caused by the sudden elevation gain. Higher altitudes have a low level of oxygen and the air pressure decreases with an increase in elevation, and your body needs time to adapt to the variety.

Also, studies have shown that exhausting yourself too much and too quickly, while hiking or doing strenuous exercises at high altitude can be a reason for AMS.

Dehydration is a major cause for any kind of ill response in your body, and while your body is already trying to adapt to the outer environment, a drop-in water level of our cells can also initiate the process of AMS.

To whom AMS happens?

AMS can happen to anyone, it depends completely on how your body responds to the change in the environment. It is unlikely for people with a high level of fitness, however, there are chances. People who live very close to sea level require more time to adapt to the high altitudes.

There are a few things that add to the chances of the happening of AMS, such as :

a). Ascending quickly to high altitudes, even flying from sea level to any place higher than 2500 meters can cause AMS.

b). Physically exerting yourself while gaining elevation.

c). Climbing to extreme heights

d). People who have problems associated with low RBC (red blood count) such as anemia have more chances of having issues related to AMS.

e). Heart or lung diseases add to the chances of AMS.

f). People who take medications for sleeping such as sleeping pills, narcotic drugs have more chances to get the problems associated with AMS.

g). People who regularly consume alcohol or intoxicate themselves in any form have more chances of AMS.

If you have any issues mentioned above, we suggest you take doctor’s advice before planning any trip to high altitudes.

Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

The symptoms may appear within a couple of hours at high altitude, they also can be identified according to the severity, following are the symptoms of mild AMS and severe AMS-:

In a mild case of AMS, a person may show these symptoms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Nauseous sensations and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • A mild and continuous headache
  • Swelling of limbs and face
  • Loss of appetite
  • Physical dullness and short and rapid breathing pattern
  • Increase in heart rate
Severe cases of AMS can be life-threatening and the person will have more severe symptoms such as:
  • Continuous coughing and chest congestion
  • Lack of orientation, lack of balancing abilities
  • Inability to stand and walk
  • Discoloration of skin and lips
  • Pale complexion
  • Blood in a cough
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of understanding of reality in a person’s behavior
What are HAPE and HACE?

A). HAPE- High Altitude Pulmonary Edema is a condition of Altitude Mountain Sickness in which the person suffers from a sudden accumulation of liquid in the tissue of the lungs, it is a severe stage of AMS and it is life-threatening if not taken care at the right time. HAPE causes a heavy amount of discomfort while breathing and coughing may have blood clots in it. The condition gets worse within hours and may lead to unconsciousness and eventually death.

B). HACE- High Altitude Cerebral Edema is a condition associated with AMS and it occurs when the tissues in the brain are accumulated with liquid. This condition is critical and it requires an immediate response, untreated it may lead to a quick death. In cases of HACE, the person loses consciousness within hours and very quickly the body functioning slows down.

Any person having any symptoms of HAPE or HACE needs to be descended down to a lower altitude as soon as possible.

How to treat AMS?

AMS can be treated by only one way and that is a quick descent to a lower altitude, and in more severe cases medication can be required such as supplemental oxygen, dexamethasone etc.

How to avoid AMS?
Following are the steps to avoid AMS :
  • Drinking plenty of water- Keeping yourself hydrated will keep your body functioning well, and help you digest food and convert into energy more efficiently.
  • Gaining elevation at a gradual rate- it is advised that after 2500 meters, elevation gain should not be more than 500 meters in a day.
  • Keeping yourself away from intoxication- Staying away from drugs and alcohol will help you avoid any problem associated with AMS.
  • Climbing high and sleeping low- Whenever you plan a camp for the night, it is advised to gain some elevation further your night halt height and then descend back to sleep at low altitude, this helps in more quick adaptation.
  • Staying active at all times- on reaching an altitude and then going off to sleep will reduce your capabilities to adapt to the changing climate, take active rest sessions and spending more time outside than inside the camps will help.
  • Eating more carbohydrates- carbs are rich in energy and that will help you from exhausting yourself too much.
  • Consult a doctor- if you have any medical condition, consult a doctor before planning a trip to higher altitudes.
  • Find a rhythm- while walking to a higher altitude, try to find a comfortable rhythm that can help you in saving yourself from getting too drained of your energy.

 

Is Diamox necessary?

Diamox is a medication that may help you in acclimatizing more quickly, however, consider the following before opting for Diamox can be helpful-:

  • Diamox is used to remove the extra amount of fluids from your body, which could lead to dehydration more quickly.
  • Diamox needs to be consumed in a particular cycle, for examples: a 24-hour cycle or a 12-hour cycle.
  • You should not stop the course until you reach the approximate altitude from where you started taking it.
  • The Doctor’s prescription is mandatory for consumption of Diamox, as it could lead to problems if you have any other medical condition.
  • If you are allergic to sulpha drugs, make sure you consult your physician about Diamox.
What are the long-term effects of AMS?

Most of the times mild symptoms of AMS go away in a day if you are not able to recover from it within a day make sure you descend back to lower altitudes.

Some basic medication can be helpful in curing mild cases of AMS

Severe cases of AMS may have its effects ranging from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.


Story by : Kirti Verma


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