Acute Mountain Sickness

I know first hand how altitude can effect you. Nobody wants to be that person in the group that struggles, but this is nothing to play with. I live at an elevation of about 551 feet, so I notice the effects at higher elevations pretty quickly. I’ve had two trips where plans had to change. On one occasion I had to stay with a group member while others went on. He wasn’t better the next day, so we opted to get him off the mountain. On another occasion I was the one that had to descend. The group I was with were already acclimated so I kept my mouth shut and hustled along. Big mistake!! I started with a bad headache, struggling to catch my breath, and exhaustion. “Don’t be that person,” I told myself, and continued on. By the time we got to camp that day, I was in a bad way. All I could do was climb in the tent and lay there. My head hurt terribly, total exhaustion but unable to sleep. If I moved I felt nauseous. My chest hurt, and I began with a cough. By morning my cough had become worse, my chest was tight and painful, and I felt very weak. At that point I knew I had to descend, and two of us parted ways from our group. I was extremely disappointed, but knew I had no choice. The further down we went, the better I began to feel, although the cough and chest pains remained. After seeking medical treatment and getting a good nights rest, I felt much better in the morning. We made the best of the trip and explored on our own. That’s when I saw my first bear, so it wound up being a great trip after all.

Don’t ignore the symptoms, and listen to your body.  We have the ability to adjust to altitude, if we do it correctly. For example, do not sleep 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the altitude you slept the previous night, and make sure you are hydrated. AMS is typically seen 8,000 feet and above, so keep this in mind when you are planning your trip.  Allow for rest days to give your body time to adjust. Know the symptoms!  There is Acute Mountain Sickness, HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema), and HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema). 

AMS: 

    Headache

    Trouble falling or staying asleep

    Dizziness, tiredness, lightheadedness

    Shortness of breath

    Nausea or vomiting

HACE:

    Ataxia (can’t walk straight, wobble)

    Disoriented, irritable, and combative progressing to unresponsive

    Severe headache (may not be present)

    Vision changes, hallucinations, seizures, etc.

HAPE:

    Persistent cough

    Shortness of breath at rest

    Heart rate and respiratory rate elevated at rest

    Wet lung sounds and productive cough

    Pale or cyanotic (bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes)

With AMS, stop ascent until signs and symptoms go away.  If symptoms do not resolve over 24 to 48 hours, you will need to descend.  HAPE and HACE victims will need to descend promptly

If you give yourself a day or two to get use to your new environment before beginning your ascent, hydrate before and during, go slow, climb high and sleep low, and watch for symptoms, you will lower your chances of having any issues .  If you have had issues previously or you are concerned, consult your doctor before going. There are some drugs that your Doctor may prescribe.

 If you have dealt with AMS please share with us your experience and how you dealt with it. Prepare, plan, and enjoy the views from the top!!