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Altitude Sickness (also known as Altitude Mountain Sickness) is at best uncomfortable and at worst, fatal.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness often appear within 6 to 10 hours after ascending. Symptoms typically begin at approximately 8000 ft.
- Headache (primary symptom, often severe)
- Appetite disturbance
- Sleep Disturbance
- Paresthesia (“tingling feeling” of a limb being ‘asleep”)
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid Pulse
- Swelling of hands/feet/face
While episodes occurred before they became OC Hiking members; one Hike Organizer experienced symptoms of headache, shortness of breath, and nausea at 9000 feet at Half Dome; the other became ill and required medical attention, at considerably higher altitude, while on Denali.
What are the biggest health risks of AMS?
HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) are both life threatening conditions, often fatal. After onset, a person may only have minutes of useful consciousness to act to descend and seek help. Quick medical attention is essential.
|High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)||High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)|
pulmonary edema — fluid in the lungs
cerebral edema — swelling of the brain
How do you treat AMS?
The only sure way to treat AMS is to descend to lower altitudes.
Exertion (such as hiking) aggravates AMS.
How can I prevent AMS?
Prevention is key:
Avoid alcohol; drink water; stay well hydrated. Dehydration is often associated with altitude sickness, as greater amounts of water vapor are lost from lung tissue at higher altitudes.
Limit strenuous activity.
Practice altitude acclimatization “Climb high, sleep low” Spend time at altitude; descend to rest. Ascend higher, descend (not as far) to rest. It’s 2 steps up, 1 step back, again and again.
Diamox has not been well researched and may or may not aid the acclimatization process.
Anecdotes from hikers and climbers suggest ginger may help (it’s also recommended by some for nausea and seasickness). Ongoing studies refer to some relief by taking gingko biloba.
What causes altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is not well understood, but it seems to be the result of blood chemistry changes brought on by lower atmospheric pressure.
Symptoms typically begin at approximately 8000 ft. This would include such hikes in the Southern California area as Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto (the tram station on San Jacinto is 8516 ft). Some people are more susceptible than others, developing symptoms as low as 6500 ft., such as many of our hikes in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Altitude sickness is not merely caused by lack of oxygen, but, while not well understood, seems to be the result of blood chemistry changes brought about by lower atmospheric pressure.