What Is Altitude Sickness?

altitude sickness

Altitude sickness is something we’ve become used to up here in the mountains. We know how to prevent it as well as how to relieve the symptoms. Well, recently we had a guest from Florida come visit us. With this being her first time being up in the mountains at this high of elevation, it was no surprise when she started to feel some mild symptoms.

As her symptoms continued to get worse, I could tell that she definitely wasn’t prepared to climb to such a high elevation. What came as a surprise to me was that she didn’t know there were things she could do to prepare herself for an elevation change and avoid altitude sickness. Being from Florida she had never heard about altitude sickness, much less how to prevent it.

So what is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness can come in three different forms.

• Acute Mountain Sickness
• High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
• 
High Altitude Cerebral Edema

A mild case of altitude sickness is the most common form and is often referred to as acute mountain sickness, or AMS. Symptoms of acute mountain sickness tend to mimic those of a hangover. With certain preparations, some people are only slightly affected. Others, like our guest from Florida, feel awful.

The second form of altitude sickness is referred to as HAPE, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, which affects the lungs. HAPE occurs when excess fluid builds up in the lungs preventing air-spaces from opening up, causing breathlessness. If this happens, there is continuously less oxygen being taken in, worsening the buildup. If left untreated, HAPE can be fatal within hours.

Symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

• Usually develops after 2-3 days at altitudes above 8,000 feet
• Most have extreme symptoms of AMS
• Development of a cough, often accompanied by white or pink frothy sputum.
• Breathlessness will continue to worsen, even at rest.*

*Regardless of the summit elevation, you should never feel breathless while you are resting.*

Symptoms of HAPE can easily be mistaken for a chest infection. *If you suspect you have High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, evacuate to a lower altitude immediately and seek medical attention.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema is the third form of altitude sickness, which affects the brain. *HACE is a life-threatening medical situation, seek urgent medical attention. This occurs when a buildup of fluid develops in the brain. Symptoms of HACE are often mistaken for a severe case of AMS.

Symptoms of High Altitude Cerebral Edema

• A severe headache
• Progressive vomiting and lethargy
• Unsteadiness
• Confusion
• Drowsiness
• Coma

If left untreated, HACE can be fatal in a few hours. One easy test to remember for HACE is walking heel-to-toe in a straight line, those with HACE will have trouble completing this. One way I like to remember this test is by remembering this “think of heel-to-toe like HACE-to-Trouble.” If someone begins to act irrationally or show signs of abnormal behavior, HACE should be considered.

Luckily most guests report mild symptoms, if any at all. Nothing a quick trip over to Essential O2 Lounge can’t fix. Relax while you enjoy some pure oxygen infused with essential oils to ease your symptoms. Still feeling some symptoms? Pick up a few packs of Altitude Adjustment pills from All Seasons or Sitzmark and make sure to drink lots of water!

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