This is meant to be the ultimate guide to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and the worse Altitude Sickness. I wanted to give you what took me MONTHS to research and learn because no one could tell me all that I needed to know. I simply couldn’t find the info that I needed in any one place!
I want you to be fully prepared for high altitudes, so you aren’t worried as shit of the possibilities.
You are probably aware that high altitudes are super hard on the human body, but did you know that people actually die from it?! Don’t worry, you probably will have nothing to worry about after reading this.
Some people do well at higher elevations, but others pass out, get severely ill, or even die.
Our bodies are best at sea level where oxygen is 20.9% and the oxygen carrying part of red blood cells, hemoglobin, is saturated.
As we go up in elevation:
Your body has stuff it does to allow you to function at higher altitudes. There are both short term and long term changes your body undergoes.
In the Short Term your body increases breathing rate and depth. At really high altitudes, your body can’t keep up and this causes elevated blood pH (Alkalosis) causing a shit-storm of bad stuff in the body with proteins
Your heart beats faster allowing you to get more oxygen carrying blood to the muscles.
Non essential functions like digestion are suppressed so more oxygen can be delivered to the muscles and the brain.
Your body will undergo changes in the long term. Over a course of days or weeks, the following changes will occur:
Don’t worry, there is more we can do about this. But what happens if you don’t properly acclimatize to the elevation? The answer is Acute Mountain Sickness, or more severely, Altitude Sickness.
This is a very real possibility over about 8000 feet of elevation. It can make you horribly sick, cause you to vomit (dehydrating yourself even more), hospitalize you, or has even killed people.
You can become aware of Altitude Sickness before it is actually a problem. Things that indicate that you may be getting attitude sickness are:
The altitude sickness, in general, can start off with headaches but can feel as bad as a nasty hangover.
Two things are believed to contribute to Altitude Sickness:
An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. I would do whatever I could not to get sick, so what can you do to help your body handle the higher altitudes?
Sorrry, you gotta lay off the beer and liquour. You get drunker and hung over worse at high altitudes. You also get more dehydrated.
No matter who you ask, they all agree that plenty of water will help you out during a high altitude adventure. DRINK A LOT.
You may be a trail running marathoner or cross country mountain biker extrordinaire, but the effect of high elevation often seems independent of physical fitness levels.
All those people telling you to drink water also tell you to take it easy and don’t overdo yourself. After all, it is the lack of oxygen that is the problem!
When scaling mountains cliffs, or even hiking up your favorite 14er (14k+ feet), take plenty of breaks so you body has a chance to properly acclimate as you are going up. Breaks really do help provide extra time.
I have never used canned air, but it will be basically 20.9% oxygen and can give you shots of air to help. I don’t know if this is proven, but it makes sense. Why don’t I carry these shots? Usually I don’t want to carry the added weight of these canisters.
Acetazolamide (the popular brand name is Diamox) is a known diuretic helpful for glaucoma, edema, or epilepsy. A huge side effect of this drug is its ability to trick your body to thinking the blood is more alkaline than it really is, so you will piss out that bicarbonate and reduce chances of alkalosis. It also reduces chances of altitude caused edema (fluid retention).
A prescription is required, but doctors are usually pretty willing to write one for you. What we generally do is take 250mg twice a day from a day prior to going up until a few days after. If symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness begin, we take 500mg.
Ibuprofin can also be a life-saver. Any time I went above tree-line (12000 ft) I would pop 600mg of Ibuprofin because it would combat the swelling of the brain and keep you from getting gnarly headaches. I do this 30 minutes before going at high altitudes.
Dexamethazone, or “Dex”, is a known corticosteroid that, for us, is known to reduce high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). This medicine is taken on climbing expeditions in the “dead zone” like Mt. Kilimanjaro. Taking 4mg every 12 hours has proven effective for HACE and HAPE.
Well Shit!!! I’m sorry if you got to this point. It sucks ass, but there are some golden rules that you need to follow if you are getting acute altitude sickness.
Sources for my research and junk:
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