While you and your family may experience high-altitude symptoms during your ski vacation this year — or your next trip to Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, or a trek up Kilamanjaro — by no means should the fear of feeling a bit woozy stop you from traveling to mountain destinations! In fact, once you’re armed with the below tips and antidotes, you’ll be much better prepared to combat any altitude sickness you might encounter
In this article on acclimatisation and altitude sickness we have provided general information on acclimatisation and a full outline on altitude sickness, HACE and HAPE, as well as set out best practice information on preventative medications like Diamox.
If climbers begin to experience symptoms from HACE or HAPE, they should descend immediately and NOT continue to ascend on their trek or climb. Staying at the same altitude and allowing one’s body to acclimatize to the altitude can resolve mild symptoms of AMS. In an emergency, some mountain clinics may use oxygen (“the” drug at altitude) and/or a Gamow bag, a portable hyperbaric chamber that can increase the atmospheric pressure inside of it.
High-altitude headache responds to ibuprofen, and can be prevented, at least in some individuals or to some degree, by aspirin, furosemide, acetazolamide (Diamox®) before reaching high altitudes. For acetazolamide 250mg 2x per day (500mg total each day) is possibly more effective than lesser amounts. Because the headaches resemble migraine, sumatriptan has been tried and found effective in some people.
Planning ahead can help prevent elevation-related health problems. As more travelers seek out adventure at high elevations, altitude sickness is an often overlooked risk.
The test is very simple and quick: O2 saturation can be measured very easily by anyone, and a low-cost, portable ultrasound machine is sufficient for the TAPSE measurement. However you need to go and stay 4 hours at high altitude to do this test.
Nothing except descending to a lower altitude, and oxygen or hyperbaric therapy is going to effectively “treat” altitude sickness (AKA AMS), however, there are many natural supplements that can be used to combat the ill effects, and reduce the chances of serious consequences from occurring.
By far the best prevention for the development of altitude sickness and its serious complications (HACE and HAPE), is acclimatization.
Ibuprofen has been used for decades to treat pain. Now, research suggests the drug's anti-inflammatory properties also may help prevent the piercing headaches and other symptoms of altitude sickness.
The neural cost of high-altitude mountaineering.
There has been much debate in recent years over the recommended rates of ascent climbers and trekkers should employ to minimise the risk of suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or its more serious forms High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE).
In our excitement to head off into the unknown to experience these thrills, it is easy to overlook the health challenges faced by those seeking high altitude and extreme low temperature adventures.
And there are a lot of security blankets being sold to Rocky Mountain visitors: oxygen therapies, oils, pills and wristbands, to name a few. They come with claims of preventing or reducing altitude sickness, promises that in most cases aren’t backed by research.
Though science has been as yet unable to entirely predict who will get acute mountain sickness, high-altitude emergency physicians, many of whom are climbers and skiers themselves, do agree on three crucial facts: First, that is a spectrum illness that can pick up steam quickly; second, that it is unpredictable, striking both the super-fit and the casual weekend warrior, and third, that it is strongly correlated to a rapid increase in altitude.
Scientists have known for a while that some people are inherently more susceptible to altitude sickness than others—and that this susceptibility is heritable—but only now are they on the trail of the culprit genes. Preliminary studies suggest that a group of six genes predicts who will get altitude sickness with greater than 90 percent accuracy
Altitude sickness has three forms. Mild altitude sickness is called acute mountain sickness (AMS) and is quite similar to a hangover - it causes headache, nausea, and fatigue. This is very common: some people are only slightly affected, others feel awful. However, if you have AMS, you should take this as a warning sign that you are at risk of the serious forms of altitude sickness: HAPE and HACE*. Both HAPE and HACE can be fatal within hours.
This site has been created by the authors with the intention of educating the public further in the fields of high altitude medicine and physiology. The website is also the home of the International HAPE Database, a confidential record of individuals who have previously experienced high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE).
Go too high above what you are prepared for, and you get sick.
This "zone of tolerance" moves up with you as you acclimatize. Each day, as you ascend, you are acclimatizing to a higher elevation, and thus your zone of tolerance extends that much higher up the mountain. The trick is to limit your daily upward travel to stay within that tolerance zone.
Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment Medicine (CASE Medicine) is a group of clinicians and scientists with specialist interests and training in the medicine and physiology of extreme environments.
Welcome to the High Altitude Pathology Institute, Clinica IPPA. Since our creation in 1970, we have evolved to become the most experienced and prestigious medical center dealing with high altitude medical care
The stresses of the high-altitude environment include cold, low humidity, increased ultraviolet radiation, and decreased air pressure, all of which can cause problems for travelers. The primary concern, however, is hypoxia. At 10,000 ft (3,000 m), for example, the inspired PO2 is only 69% of sea-level value. The degree of hypoxic stress depends on altitude, rate of ascent, and duration of exposure. Sleeping at high altitude produces the most hypoxia; day trips to high altitude with return to low altitude are much less stressful on the body.
Acute (sudden) altitude sicknesses can occur as low as 8,000 feet (2500 meters), but the risk for altitude sickness increases with increasing altitude. Acute altitude sickness occurs in up to 50% of those living in the lowlands who ascend to a level of 14,000 feet (4200 m). Onset of the condition can begin any time from eight to 96 hours after arrival at altitudes over 8,000 feet.
The best way to try to prevent altitude sickness is to climb up (ascend) to higher altitudes slowly. This gives time for your body to adapt to conditions (acclimatise). Different people will acclimatise at different rates. Remember to drink enough fluids (keep well hydrated) and eat enough food (stay well nourished).
There are also drugs that can be taken to prevent acute mountain sickness (AMS), the most widely known being acetazolamide (Diamox®). These are most suitable for people who have been known to have problems in the past or who unavoidably have to ascend more quickly than recommended. The routine use of acetazolamide before ascent is not recommended. The better strategy for prevention is to ascend slowly and to be aware of any developing symptoms.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is actually more common in fit young men because they are more likely to attempt a rapid ascent by racing up the mountain like some indestructible super hero! As a general rule, it is far safer (and more enjoyable) to avoid altitude sickness by planning a sensible itinerary that allows for gradual acclimatisation to altitude as you ascend, (you can race back down as fast as you like!).
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) are generally considered to represent two points along a single spectrum of disease, with the same underlying pathophysiology. Although several aspects of this pathophysiology remain unclear, the concept that AMS/HACE represents a continuum, and that AMS can progress to fatal HACE, fits with clinical experience and is helpful for management.