Acute mountain sickness can affect a person when he is climbing from a low altitude ascends to a higher altitude.
It is very common sickness that mountaineers suffer while climbing on high altitude without proper acclimatization. More than one-fourth of people traveling above 3500 meters above sea level is affected with AMS. Even more, than half of the people, traveling above 6000 meters suffer from the symptom.
Symptoms may include fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, sleep disturbances and light-headedness. These symptoms usually last near about 6 to 12 hours after ascent, and without proper precaution, it can be reached to severe effect. Sometimes the symptoms improve after 1 to 2 days if there is no further gaining of higher altitude, but some cases that can last longer. In less than 1% of cases, it can develop into high-altitude cerebral edema, a life-risking condition with the symptoms of unstable walking, confusion, and even losing consciousness.
What is HAPE?
High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is the life-threatening fluid accumulation in the lungs. It is another form of Acute Mountain Sickness due to high altitude. Although there is a chance of HAPE at the high altitude of 2500 meters, people even can also suffer HAPE at 1500 meters too. However, HAPE becomes the major causes of death at high altitude for the trekkers and mountaineers.
Signs of HAPE
There are various psychological and symptomatic changes involved as per the altitude changes. However, you can notice at least two changes below as the sigh of HAPE – Breathing problems
- Chest congestion
- Crackles or wheezing while breathing from one lung field
- Blue skin color
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
The initial cause of HAPE is the shortage of Oxygen at high altitude. But two processes should be important to notice –
- Increased pulmonary arterial and capillary pressures (pulmonary hypertension) secondary to hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction.
- An idiopathic non-inflammatory increase in the permeability of the vascular endothelium.
As HAPE is life-threatening, there is always the risk factor involved here. It is also difficult to predict individual susceptibility to HAPE. Even, the people suffering from sleep apnea are more affected by HAPE for irregular breathing pattern at high altitude.
Prevention and Treatment
What is HACE?
High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is a medical condition which affects the brain. The brain swells with the fluid at high altitude. People who are affected with the acute mountain sickness are suffering from mental disorientation, lethargy, nausea, and other syndromes. When the body fails to acclimatize at high altitude, HACE may impact your brain.
Signs of HACE
High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is the advanced stage of mountain altitude sickness. The symptoms of HACE commonly include confusion, fever, loss of consciousness, photophobia and rapid heartbeat. Sometimes the sufferer is affected with ocular paralysis and severe headache.
Cause of HACE
At high altitude, there is the low density of oxygen. Naturally, it affects the cerebral system for the sake of less supply of oxygen in the brain. Human body due to the lack of proper acclimatization suffers from HACE. The result is the swollen brain tissue with the fluid.
Prevention and Treatment
If the human body is already affected with HACE, the most effective way is to descend at the lower altitude and acclimatize the body. The risk of developing HACE can be reduced with the application of acetazolamide or dexamethasone.
How to Diagnose Acute Mountain Sickness?
Acute mountain sickness can be diagnosed by the observation of the symptoms concerned to the climbing to high altitude. It is not very difficult to diagnose at an early stage. Sometimes it is difficult to diagnose for the people with the basic health problem. In fact, in many cases, the hikers hide the issue due to the lack of awareness and that may create fatal result later on. No blood or imaging test is necessary to diagnose the issue. The symptom will improve with the supply of enough oxygen which can be possible to bring down the affected person to the lower altitude.
How Is Acute Mountain Sickness Treated?
People affected with acute mountain sickness should hold off on ascending to higher altitudes. They must have to wait until their symptoms have resolved. If it is a mild case of AMS, it can be quickly diagnosed with supportive care including rest, pain medications for a headache, and hydration. For the severe cases, they must be provided immediate oxygen through a nasal cannula as well as with prescription medications like acetazolamide, dexamethasone, or both. Still, if the symptoms are getting worse, the victims should be brought down to the lower altitude.
How to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness?
The natural and best technique is to prevent acute mountain sickness include regular exposure to altitude (pre-acclimatization) and a gradual ascent. If the body is habituated with the lower supply of oxygen, the chance to get affected is getting lesser. Try to gain not more than 400-meter altitude gain in a single day. You have to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol to prevent dehydration. If you have a history of acute mountain sickness, should be especially careful and can have acetazolamide before the ascent to avoid AMS.
People with heart disease, lung disease, anemia, or obstructive sleep apnea should talk to their doctors before traveling to high altitudes.