Acute mountain sickness can happen to someone when they are not used to lower oxygen levels that occur at high altitudes. If you are planning a trip to the mountains, there are a few things you can do to prevent acute mountain sickness. Here's what you need to know:
Why Acute Mountain Sickness Happens
When at higher altitudes, the body is unable to acclimatize quickly enough to the lower oxygen levels your body is able to breathe in. While the oxygen level at two miles above sea level is basically the same as the oxygen level at sea level, the air pressure is lower, and this makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter the circulatory system. The circulatory system is how the oxygen is carried throughout the body via the arteries and veins. This causes the amount of oxygen getting to the brain and vital organs to be lower, which causes acute mountain sickness (AMS).
Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness
Symptoms of AMS can start between a half a day to a full day after arriving at a high altitude location. At first, mild AMS symptoms occur, which includes dizziness, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, nausea, and no appetite. The body can acclimatize within 2-4 days after reaching the high altitude location. Moderate and severe AMS can result in the addition of the following symptoms:
- decreased coordination
- difficulty performing normal activities
- inability to walk
- shortness of breath, even while resting
- decreased mental status
- fluid building up in the lungs
The only cures for AMS are descending to a lower altitude or attempting to acclimatize. It's important to be aware of these symptoms before heading out for your destination. That way, you'll know when descending is necessary to help you overcome moderate and severe AMS.
Tips to Prevent Acute Mountain Sickness
Now that you know the risks of acute mountain sickness and can recognize the symptoms, you may be relieved to learn that there are a few things you can do to prevent AMS from ruining your vacation in the mountains so you will be able to enjoy the various activities you have planned. Here's what to do:
- stay hydrated
- start your journey well-rested
- take it slow and easy
- purchase and use oxygen canisters
- pack headache medication
You'll be able to find oxygen canisters in many of the tourist shops and pharmacies at your destination or along the way. If you are unable to find oxygen canisters, speak with the receptionist for your mountain lodging for advice on where to purchase them.