Acute Mountain Sickness - AMS
This information is intended to be educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. You should consult your physician regarding any specific medical conditions or questions you may have or before taking any medications or undertaking any strenuous activities!
Altitude illness (also known as Acute Mountain Sickness, AMS) is caused by the lack of oxygen in the thin mountain air and it can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition in altitudes above 1.500m (5.000ft).
High altitude is considered to be between 1.500-3.500m (5.000-11.500ft), very high altitude between 3.500-5.500m (11.500-18.000ft), and extreme altitude above 5.500m (18.000ft)
When ascending up through the atmosphere, barometric pressure decreases (though the air still contains 21% oxygen). Each breath contains fewer and fewer molecules of oxygen. Your body must work harder to obtain oxygen this is done primarily by breathing faster. As the amount of oxygen in the lungs decreases, the blood becomes less and less efficient at acquiring and transporting oxygen, meaning that no matter how fast you breath, attaining normal blood levels of oxygen is not possible at high altitude.
There is no way to predict who will get AMS. From our experience there are two main classes of people that are more prone to get it. Those who try to climb on a “shoe string” budget and try to keep the price lower by reducing the number of days on the mountain and the “mega-athletes” that believe that because they are in “great shape” that they can go faster than recommended.
Given time, your body can adapt to the decrease in oxygen molecules at a specific altitude. This process is known as acclimatization and generally takes 1-3 days at any given altitude. Climb too high too fast before this process gets properly under way and the result is AMS.
A headache, with any one or more of the following symptoms above 2.500m (8.000ft) qualifies you for the diagnosis of AMS: Loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting; Fatigue or weakness; Dizziness or light-headedness; Difficulty sleeping; Confusion; Staggering gait.
Altitude illnesses can be prevented by:
a) Proper acclimatization:
The key to avoiding AMS is a rational ascent that gives your body time to acclimatize. People acclimatize at different rates, and in general, the following is recommended to avoid AMS: At altitudes above 3.000m (10.000ft), your sleeping elevation should not increase more than 300m (1.000ft) per night, and every 1.000m (3.000ft) you should spend a second night at the same elevation.
Climb High and Sleep Low!
By far the best way to aid acclimatization and to give you the best possible shot for the summit is to take a rest day. We don't want to belabor this point but a rest day involving a short trek to a higher altitude and then returning to camp at a lower elevation will increase your odds of standing on the top!
If you begin to show symptoms of AMS Don't go up until symptoms go down!
If symptoms increase, go down, down, down!!!
Stay properly hydrated (drink at least three liters per day); monitor urine output, which should be copious and clear.
Avoid tobacco and alcohol and other depressant drugs including barbiturates, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.
Take it easy; don't over-exert yourself when you first get up to altitude.
b) Preventive medications -Diamox:
NOTE: We are NOT in position to give medical advice - consult your physcian.
Acetazolamide) is a prescription drug which allows you to breathe faster in order to metabolize more oxygen, thereby minimizing the symptoms caused by poor oxygenation.
Since it takes a while for Diamox to have an effect, it is advisable to start taking it 24 hours before you go to altitude (125mg twice a day; morning and night) and continue for at least five days at higher altitude. Possible side effects include tingling of the lips and finger tips, blurring of vision, and alteration of taste.
As Diamox is a sulfonamide drug, people who are allergic to sulfa drugs should not take it! Diamox has also been known to cause severe allergic reactions to people with no previous history of Diamox or sulfa allergies. A trial course of the drug before going to a remote location where a severe allergic reaction could prove difficult to treat is highly recommended!