Acute Mountain Sickness
Understanding Acute Mountain Sickness
Exploring high altitudes, such as during hiking, skiing, or mountain adventures, may sometimes lead to acute mountain sickness (AMS), also known as altitude sickness or high-altitude pulmonary oedema. Typically occurring around 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level, AMS symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath. Most cases are mild and resolve rapidly, but severe cases can lead to dangerous lung or brain complications.
Factors Leading to Acute Mountain Sickness The lower oxygen levels and reduced air pressure at high altitudes can cause AMS if the body doesn’t have enough time to adjust. Exertion levels also contribute; for instance, hiking rapidly up a mountain may increase AMS risk.
Recognizing Acute Mountain Sickness Symptoms, AMS symptoms can appear within hours of reaching higher altitudes and vary based on condition severity:
Mild AMS symptoms may include:
Nausea and vomiting
Loss of appetite
Swelling of hands, feet, and face
Shortness of breath during exertion
Severe AMS can cause more intense symptoms, impacting the heart, lungs, muscles, and nervous system, such as:
The pale complexion and skin discolouration
Inability to walk or balance issues
Acute Mountain Sickness Risk Factors Higher AMS risk occurs for those living near sea levels and unaccustomed to high altitudes. Other risk factors include:
Rapid ascent to high altitudes
Physical exertion during altitude increase
Extreme altitude travel
Anaemia-induced low red blood cell count
Heart or lung disease
Medications (sleeping pills, narcotic pain relievers, or tranquillizers) lowering breathing rate
Previous AMS episodes
Discuss any risk factors with your doctor before high-altitude travel to determine prevention methods.
Diagnosing Acute Mountain Sickness, Doctors diagnose AMS based on symptoms, activities, and travel history. They may use a stethoscope to check for lung fluid and potentially order a chest X-ray to determine severity.
Treating Acute Mountain Sickness AMS treatment depends on severity.
Mild cases may resolve by returning to a lower altitude, while severe cases may require hospitalization, oxygen, and medications such as:
Acetazolamide for breathing issues
Blood pressure medication
Dexamethasone to reduce brain swelling
Aspirin for headache relief
Other treatments for milder AMS include:
Descending to a lower altitude
Reducing activity levels
Resting before further altitude increase
Hydrating with water
Preventing Acute Mountain Sickness Preventive measures can reduce AMS risk:
Obtain a physical to identify serious health issues
Recognize AMS symptoms for quick treatment
Consult a doctor about acetazolamide for extreme altitude travel
Gradually ascend to higher altitudes
Long-Term Outlook for Acute Mountain Sickness Most mild AMS cases resolve quickly after descending, with symptoms subsiding within hours or up to two days. Severe cases without proper treatment can lead to brain and lung swelling, coma, or death. Adequate planning for high-altitude travel is essential.