If you enjoy hiking, and are planning a hiking trip at high altitude, it is important for you to learn more about Acute Mountain Sickness. This sickness is caused when a person's body does not have enough time to adjust to the decrease in oxygen at the higher altitude. In order to maintain proper cell function, our bodies need time to adjust to a decline in oxygen. If you don't take the time to acclimatize, you are at increased risk for AMS.
AMS is surprisingly common among hikers at high altitude. For example, about one out of four people who go hiking in the Colorado mountains experience AMS, as do two out of three people who climb Washington State's Mt. Rainier.
Acute Mountain Sickness exists along a continuum from mild AMS, to moderate and more severe or life threatening cases.
Symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness generally always include a headache accompanied by a variety of other things, for example, headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and interrupted sleep.
How to Prevent AMS
It is possible to avoid AMS if you make an early effort to acclimatize to the decreased levels of oxygen. In order to properly acclimatize, consider doing the following things:
Delay Physical Activity. You should try to avoid physical activity for at least 24 hours after you first arrive in the higher altitude (@8,200 feet and up).
Hydrate.Drink a lot of fluids and avoid drinking alcoholic beverages.
Slow Down.If you are hiking, try to ascend the mountain gradually past 8,000 feet or approximately 1,000 feet per day.
If you find that you are grappling with AMS, the best thing you can do is to descend and get yourself to an area with higher oxygen levels. In addition, avoid going back up the mountain until all of your symptoms are completely gone.
If you have a very severe case of AMS, sometimes called HAPE or HACE, you may need hospitalization, hyperbaric therapy, additional oxygen and additional medical intervention. Symptoms of this most severe form of AMS include:
Challenged breathing, even during rest
Tightness in chest
Hiking in the Western United States is beautiful with many exciting and challenging trails to explore. Make sure you educate yourself in advance about the seriousness of oxygen deprivation and the risks associated with Acute Mountain Sickness.
Planning ahead, knowing the early warning signs of AMS, and knowing what to do if you do experience the sickness, is important so that you can keep yourself safe. As always, for more information on AMS, or any medical issue, it is best to consult a qualified board certified physician for additional guidance and medical advice.
Dr. Stacie L. Grossfeld is a board certified Orthopaedic Surgeon practicing in Louisville, Kentucky. She graduated from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and completed a fellowship in Sports Medicine at the Fowler-Kennedy Sports Medicine Center. Dr. Grossfeld currently works as a louisville orthopedic surgeon in private practice at Orthopaedic Specialists. Dr. Grossfeld also serves as a clinical instructor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Louisville. Her special interests are in knee and shoulder reconstruction and sports medicine.