what is altitude sickness

What is altitude sickness?

Acute Mountain Sickness, mostly known as altitude sickness or high altitude pulmonary edema is a condition that typically occurs 2400 meters above the sea level with symptoms like dizziness, nausea, headache, and shortness of breath. Most of the cases of altitude sickness are not threatening and heal quickly. In rare cases, altitude sickness can become lethal and cause complications with the lungs or brain
as fluid from the blood vessels to accumulate in the lungs. This happens because the blood vessels constrict in high altitudes. Mainly this problem is seen while doing high altitude Trekking like Everest Base Camp Trek and Annapurna base camp Trek. 

What causes acute mountain sickness?

Higher altitudes have significantly low levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure. For instance, while we hike or trek, our body might not have enough time and rest to adjust which can result in acute mountain sickness. The rate on which we ascend a hill or a mountain plays a major role in the development of altitude sickness. While Trekking in Nepal you need to be more concern about AMS, as most of the trekking is above 2400 meters.

Altitude sickness Symptoms 

The symptoms of acute mountain sickness most of the time appear within hours of moving to higher altitudes. They vary depending on several conditions such as health status, rate of ascension, etc.
If you have a mild case, you may experience:
Dizziness
Headache
Muscle aches
Insomnia
Nausea and Vomiting
Irritability
Loss of appetite
Swelling of the hands, feet, and face
Rapid heartbeat
Shortness of breath with physical exertion

Severe acute mountain sickness.

Rare cases of acute mountain sickness can manifest deadly symptoms and affect our heart, lungs, muscles, and even the entire nervous system. For example, you may hallucinate as a result of brain swelling. You may also suffer from shortness of breath due to fluid in the lungs.

Symptoms of severe altitude sickness

coughing
chest congestion
the pale complexion and skin discoloration
inability to walk or lack of balance
social withdrawal

Such a condition requires quick medical expertise.

Risk of Mountain Sickness?

The risk of experiencing mountain sickness augments in people who live in lower altitudes or by the sea
and have never been exposed to higher altitudes. Other risk factors include:
Quick ascension to high altitudes
Physical extremity while traveling to a higher altitude
traveling to major heights
Alow red blood cell count due to anemia
Heart or Lung disease
Use of medications like sleeping pills, narcotics, pain relievers, or tranquilizers

How is acute mountain sickness diagnosed?

You will be asked to describe your symptoms, things that you have done, recent travels and exposure.
During the test, a stethoscope is commonly used to listen for fluid in your lungs. To further accurately
pinpoint the severity of the condition, a chest X-ray might also be required.

Altitude Sickness Treatment?

There are several treatment methods for altitude sickness depending upon the extremity of your condition.
A quicker approach to this might be simply returning back to a lower altitude. Hospitalization is
necessary in severe cases if the doctor discovers brain swelling or fluid in your lungs. You will be
administered oxygen if you have breathing issues.
Medications for altitude sickness include:
Acetazolamide, to correct breathing problems
Blood pressure medicine
Lung inhalers
Dexamethasone, to decrease brain swelling
Aspirin, for headache relief
Other treatments
Some basic interventions may be able to treat milder conditions, including:
returning to a lower altitude
reducing your activity level
resting for at least a day before moving to a higher altitude
hydrating with water

How to prevent altitude sickness?

Dozens of accurate preventive measures can be applied to completely avoid pulmonary edema. First of

all, a periodic body checks up might be the best option to find the functionality of the body and receive
suggestions to the doctor or the physician. Also, all the symptoms mentioned above must be reviewed carefully.
Also, if you are traveling to extreme altitudes, acetazolamide can be taken as a backup which is a
medication that can ease our body’s adjustment to higher altitudes. Ingestion of the medicine a day before
treks or hikes to upper altitudes might help a lot.

The right clothing makes a lot of difference in hiking so you need to be careful about Hiking Gears as well.

Conclusion:
Most of the times, all the symptoms subside within a few hours or days after descending back to normal
altitude. However, if the condition is severe and little access to treatment is available, complications can
lead to swelling in the brain and lungs which can result in coma or death. As they say, it’s essential and
extremely helpful to plan ahead when traveling to high-altitude locations to truly live the places you visit.