1. What is Acute Mountain Sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), also known as high altitude sickness, occurs when the body fails to acclimate to the lower oxygen levels at higher elevations. This condition can affect anyone who ascends to high altitudes quickly without proper acclimatization. It is characterized by a range of symptoms that can vary from mild to severe, potentially leading to life-threatening conditions if not properly managed.

2. Who Gets Acute Mountain Sickness and What Are the Symptoms?

AMS can affect anyone, regardless of their fitness level or experience. Even seasoned trekkers and climbers are not immune to it. The symptoms typically appear within a few hours to a day after ascending to a high altitude and can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling of hands, feet, and face

In severe cases, AMS can progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), both of which require immediate medical attention.

3. Precautions to Control AMS

To minimize the risk of AMS, it is crucial to follow these precautions:

  • Gradual Ascent: Ascend slowly to allow your body time to acclimate. Avoid rapid increases in altitude.
  • Acclimatization Days: Include rest days in your itinerary to allow your body to adjust to the altitude.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, as dehydration can exacerbate AMS symptoms.
  • Avoid Alcohol and Caffeine: These can dehydrate you and impair your body’s ability to acclimatize.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to how you feel and don’t push through symptoms. Descend if necessary.
  • Climb High, Sleep Low: Ascend to a higher altitude during the day but return to a lower altitude to sleep.

4. Recommended Food Supplements and Medicines

Certain food supplements and medicines can help prevent and manage AMS:

  • Acetazolamide (Diamox): A common medication used to prevent and reduce the symptoms of AMS.
  • Dexamethasone: A steroid that can help reduce brain swelling caused by AMS.
  • Ginkgo Biloba: Some studies suggest it may help prevent AMS, though evidence is mixed.
  • Iron Supplements: Can help improve oxygen delivery in the blood if you have low iron levels.
  • High-Carbohydrate Diet: Consuming a diet rich in carbohydrates can help maintain energy levels and improve acclimatization.

5. From Which Height Should We Be Alert?

AMS can occur at altitudes as low as 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), but it becomes more common above 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Trekkers and climbers should be particularly vigilant and begin taking precautions when reaching these elevations.

6. Treks in Nepal Where AMS is a Concern

Certain treks in Nepal are known for their high altitudes and should be approached with caution regarding AMS:

7. Additional Advice

  • Pre-Trek Medical Checkup: Consult with a healthcare provider before your trek, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions.
  • Travel Insurance: Ensure your insurance covers high-altitude trekking and potential evacuations.
  • Carry an Oximeter: This can help monitor your blood oxygen levels, providing an early warning of potential issues.
  • Stay Informed: Learn about AMS symptoms and treatments before your trek. Knowledge can be a lifesaver in remote areas.

Returning to Lower Altitude

Returning to a lower altitude quickly is one of the most effective ways to alleviate symptoms of AMS. If you or someone in your group begins to show signs of AMS, it’s crucial to descend to a lower elevation as soon as possible. Here’s why and how it helps:

  • Increased Oxygen Availability: As you descend, the oxygen levels in the air increase, which can help alleviate the symptoms of AMS.
  • Reduced Pressure on the Body: Lower altitudes put less strain on your body’s systems, making it easier for you to recover.
  • Prevents Complications: Descending can prevent mild AMS from progressing to more severe and life-threatening conditions like HAPE or HACE.

How to Descend Safely

  • Immediate Action: At the first sign of severe AMS symptoms (such as confusion, inability to walk, or breathlessness at rest), descend immediately.
  • Gradual Descent: While quick descent is often necessary, ensure it is done safely and methodically to avoid accidents.
  • Seek Help: If available, use guides or local assistance to facilitate a safe and effective descent.
  • Monitor Symptoms: Keep a close eye on symptoms even after descending. If symptoms do not improve or worsen, seek medical attention promptly.

Practical Steps

  • Plan Ahead: Have a flexible itinerary that allows for quick descent if needed.
  • Communication: Carry a reliable means of communication (e.g., satellite phone) to call for help if descending quickly is not possible on your own.
  • Oxygen Supply: If possible, carry portable oxygen canisters or have access to oxygen at rest stops or lodges.

Additional Tips

  • Rest: Allow the body to rest and recover after descending. Overexertion can worsen symptoms.
  • Hydrate: Continue to drink plenty of fluids to help your body recover.
  • Seek Medical Advice: Once at a lower altitude, consult with a medical professional for further guidance and treatment if necessary.

By taking these precautions and being aware of the risks, you can enjoy your high-altitude adventures in Nepal safely and confidently. For further reading check this link ‘Health Problems’