Mountain Living

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness has several forms …

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the most common and least severe: symptoms may include headache, nausea, insomnia, fluid retention, and lassitude or lethargy. Twenty percent (20%) of people who ascend from below 4000’ to above 8000’ in 24 hours will experience one or more of these symptoms. Aging does not predispose to AMS! However, if someone has experienced it previously they are more likely to have the symptoms recur. What to do: gradual ascent (ie, stop overnight below 8000’ before continuing to above 8000’); avoid exertion at altitude for first two days; if symptoms appear, stop ascent and breathe low flow oxygen if available; if symptoms persist, descend at least 1000’ or until symptoms disappear.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is a very serious form of the neurologic ams. It is manifest by progressive neurologic deterioration from severe headache to coma. Its physical signs are ataxia (difficulty with ambulation or movement), impaired judgment, and hallucinations. This emergency requires immediate descent to at least below 8000’ and professional medical examination.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is a lung manifestation of altitude sickness which has a physiologic mechanism different from ams and hace … though it may appear simultaneously with either of these. Its symptoms appear within 2 to 4 days of ascent to above 8000’: persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, and decreased exercise tolerance. Victims may be cyanotic (blue), may have audible lung congestion, and eventually pink or frothy sputum. The keys to successful treatment include early recognition, descent to at least below 8000’, minimize exertion, and professional medical exam