What Is Acute Mountain
skiers, and adventurers who travel to high altitudes can sometimes develop acute
mountain sickness. Other names for this condition are altitude sickness or high
altitude pulmonary edema. It typically occurs at about 8,000 feet, or 2,400
meters, above sea level. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath
are a few symptoms of this condition. Most instances of altitude sickness are
mild and heal quickly. In rare cases, altitude sickness can become severe and
cause complications with the lungs or brain.
What Causes Acute Mountain
altitudes have lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure. When you
travel in a plane, drive or hike up a mountain, or go skiing, your body may not
have enough time to adjust. This can result in altitude sickness. Your level of
exertion also plays a role. Pushing yourself to quickly hike up a mountain, for
example, may cause acute mountain sickness.
Who Is at Risk for Acute
Your risk of
experiencing acute mountain sickness is greater if you live by or near the sea
and are unaccustomed to higher altitudes. Other risk factors include:
movement to high altitudes
exertion while traveling to a higher altitude
to extreme heights
low red blood cell count due to anemia
or lung disease
bouts of acute mountain sickness
What Are the Symptoms of
Acute Mountain Sickness?
of altitude sickness generally appear within hours of moving to higher
altitudes. They vary depending on the severity of your condition. If you have a
mild case, you may experience:
of the hands, feet, and face
of breath with physical exertion
of acute mountain sickness can cause more intense symptoms and affect your
heart, lungs, muscles, and nervous system. For example, you may experience
confusion as a result of brain swelling. You may also suffer from shortness of
breath due to fluid in the lungs.
severe altitude sickness may include:
complexion and skin discoloration
to walk or lack of balance
attention as soon as possible. The condition is much easier to treat if you
address it before it progresses.
How Is Acute Mountain
will ask you to describe your symptoms, activities, and recent travels. During
the exam, your doctor will most likely use a stethoscope to listen for fluid in
your lungs. To pinpoint the severity of the condition, your doctor may also
order a chest X-ray.
How Is Acute Mountain
for acute mountain sickness varies depending on its severity. You might be able
to avoid complications by simply returning to a lower altitude. Hospitalization
is necessary if your doctor determines that you have brain swelling or fluid in
your lungs. You may receive oxygen if you have breathing issues.
for altitude sickness include:
to correct breathing problems
to decrease brain swelling
for headache relief
interventions may be able to treat milder conditions, including:
to a lower altitude
your activity level
for at least a day before moving to a higher altitude
How Can I Prevent Acute
some important preventive steps you can take to reduce your chances of acute
mountain sickness. Get a physical to make sure you have no serious health
issues. Review the symptoms of mountain sickness so you can recognize and treat
them quickly if they occur. If traveling to extreme altitudes (higher than
10,000 feet, for example), ask your doctor about acetazolamide, a medication
that can ease your body’s adjustment to high altitudes. Taking it the day
before you climb and on the first day or two can lessen your symptoms.
climbing to higher altitudes, prevent acute mountain sickness by doing the following:
gradually, if possible. Instead of moving from 0 to 8,000 feet in one day, rest
for a day after every 2,000 feet.
to lower altitudes to sleep to give your body a break.
oxygen with you when climbing above 9,000 feet.
plenty of fluids.
frequent, high-carbohydrate meals.
unnecessary physical exertion, particularly in the initial climb.
also avoid climbing to high altitudes if you have certain medical conditions or
restrictions. Having anemia causes a low red blood cell count, which reduces
the amount of oxygen in your blood. Ask your doctor about taking an iron
supplement, and treat the issue before going to high altitudes.
If you have
either heart or lung disease, the combination of high altitudes and low oxygen
can be difficult to endure.
If you take
medications like sleeping pills, narcotic pain relievers, or tranquilizers,
check with your doctor before climbing to high altitudes. These medications can
lower your breathing rate.
You should also avoid climbing to high altitudes if you felt ill in the
past during previous climbs.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
are able to recover from a mild case of acute mountain sickness quickly after
returning to lower altitudes. Symptoms typically subside within hours, but may
last up to two days. However, if your condition is severe and you have little
access to treatment, complications can lead to swelling in the brain and lungs,
resulting in coma or death. It’s essential to plan ahead when traveling to high