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All about acute mountain sickness


What is acute mountain sickness?

acute mountain sickness

Travelers 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 normally occurs at about 8,000 feet, or 2,400 meters, above sea level. Dizziness (unbalanced), nausea(urge to vomit), headaches, and shortness of breath(dyspnea) 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.

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What causes acute mountain sickness?

Higher altitudes have lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure. When you travel on a plane, drive or hike up a mountain, or go skiing, your body may not have enough time to adjust. This can result in acute mountain sickness.

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What are the symptoms of acute mountain sickness?

The symptoms of acute altitude sickness usually seem within hours of moving to higher altitudes. They take issue reckoning on the severity of your condition.

If you have got a gentle AMS case, you may experience:


A headache

Muscle aches

Insomnia (sleeplessness)

Nausea and vomiting


Loss of appetite

Swelling of the hands, feet, and face

Rapid heartbeat

Shortness of breath with physical exertion

If you have severe AMS

Severe cases of acute altitude sickness will cause additional intense symptoms and have an effect on your heart, lungs, muscles, and nervous system. For example, you may experience confusion as a result of brain swelling. You may conjointly suffer from shortness of breath due to the fluid within the lungs.

Symptoms of severe altitude sickness may include:


Chest congestion

Pale complexion and skin discoloration

Inability to walk or lack of balance

Social withdrawal

Who is at risk for acute mountain sickness?

Your risk of experiencing acute altitude sickness is larger if you reside by or close to the ocean and are unaccustomed to higher altitudes. Other risk factors include:

Quick movement to high altitudes

Physical exertion while traveling to a higher altitude

Traveling to extreme heights

A low red corpuscle count due to anemia

Heart or lung disease

Taking medications like sleeping pills, narcotic pain relievers, or tranquilizers (drugs to relieve anxiety or tension) that can lower your breathing rate.

Past attacks of acute mountain sickness

If you’re planning on traveling to a high altitude and have any of the higher than conditions or taking any of the above medications, talk to your doctor about how best to avoid developing acute mountain sickness.

How is acute mountain sickness treated?

Treatment for acute altitude sickness varies depending on its severity. You might be ready to avoid complications by merely returning to a lower altitude. Hospitalization is important if your doctor determines that you just have brain swelling or fluid in your lungs. You may receive oxygen if you have got respiration problems.

Medications (consult a doctor first )

Medications for altitude sickness include:

  • Acetazolamide, to correct breathing problems
  • Blood pressure medicine
  • Lung inhalers
  • Dexamethasone, to decrease brain swelling
  • Aspirin, for headache relief

Other treatments

Some basic interventions may be able to treat milder conditions, including:

  • Returning to a lower altitude
  • Reducing your activity level
  • Resting for at least 1 0r 2 days before moving to a higher altitude
  • Hydrating with water

How can I prevent acute mountain sickness?

Acclimatization is a very important a part of building your high altitudes in like Kingdom of Bhutan, Gurudongmer, Nathula or Ladakh in India itinerary. Make sure you do not rush your trip and allow time for your body to regulate to the low air pressure. You should reserve the first a pair of days when your arrive in Leh to be accustomed in the high altitude. Don’t expect to arrive in Leh and go directly to Nubra or Pangong. Same in case of Gurudongmer in Sikkim. Since you could get seriously affected by AMS which may lead to severe headaches, nausea, restlessness, or even inability to walk or think, and ataxia (Ataxia is a degenerative disease of the nervous system). This will destroy your vacation. Even the fit individuals are stricken by acute altitude sickness. Here are some precautions to keep in mind regarding AMS.

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1. Physical fitness

Physical fitness is the primary thing you need to consider while undertaking a trip to the Himalayan or Karakoram region. Few exercises and brisk walking are recommendable six months before a high altitude tour.

2. Take rest

Due to the low atmospheric pressure, tourists need to rest for around 2 days or 48 hours after reaching Leh. If you are flying directly to Leh, you still need to take two days to rest. During this period, you could always go on a short trip to Thiksey, Hemis, Shey, Nimoo and Stok etc. to visit monasteries and palaces if health permits.

3. Check up your health

If you suffer from high blood pressure, heart diseases, and asthma, you should consider not visiting Ladakh.

4. Do not be overexcited

During the cold weather, cover your head and ears with something warm. Don’t exert yourself physically too much. Never run out of excitement especially on passes. Low oxygen levels could lead to fatigue and it can be difficult to catch your breath. You might feel the earth spin or even pass out.

5. Do not take a risk

If you notice any symptoms such as a headache, nausea, dizziness, or fatigue, rest immediately and descend without delay if you are at a high altitude (as in Khardung La or Chang La Top).

6. Do not sleep daytime

You should avoid sleeping during the day. I know I didn’t have to say this because who’d waste even seconds of time sleeping during the day in such a magnificent land.

7.Climb slowly

Your body needs about two to three days of slowly going higher in order to adjust to the changes. Avoid flying or driving directly to high altitudes. Instead, go up higher each day, stop to rest, and continue the next day. If you have to fly or drive, pick a lower altitude to stay at for 48 hours before going all the way up.

8. Eat Carbs

It’s not often we’re told to eat extra carbohydrates. But when you’re at a higher altitude, you need more calories. So pack plenty of healthy snacks, including lots of whole grains.

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9. Avoid alcohol

I know this one is troublesome to try and do however you ought to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol at a high altitude to prevent AMS. Alcohol, cigarettes, and medications like sleeping pills will build altitude sickness symptoms worse. Avoid drinking, smoking, or taking sleeping pills throughout your trip to higher altitude. If you want to have a drink, wait at least 48 hours to give your body time to adjust before adding alcohol into the mix.

10. Drink water

Staying hydrous is additionally necessary for preventing hypoxia ( An absence of enough oxygen in the tissues to sustain bodily functions) . Every member ought to carry a minimum of one bottle of water. Drink water regularly during your climb.

11. Sleep lower

Altitude sickness sometimes gets worse at night once you’re sleeping. It’s a decent plan to try and do the next climb throughout the day then come to a lower altitude to sleep, particularly if you propose on climbing more than 1,000 feet in one day.

12. Medication(consult a doctor before apply)

Usually, medication isn’t given before time unless flying or driving to high altitude is inevitable. There’s some proof that taking acetazolamide (the molecular name of brand Diamox) 2 days before a visit and through your trip will facilitate prevent altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide may be a medication generally used to treat eye disease. But because of the approach it works, it may also facilitate stop hypoxia. You’ll want a prescription from your doctor to urge it. It’s conjointly vital to understand that you simply will still get hypoxia ( deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues ) even once taking acetazolamide. Once you begin having symptoms, the medication won’t reduce them. Getting yourself to lower altitude again is that the only effective treatment.

Some homeopathic medicines do aid acclimatization and treat altitude sickness. The most popular is Coca 6. Other natural options are garlic soup or a bowl of soup prepared with lots of garlic, camphor cube is another one which you can put in hanky and take a smell.

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But, consult your doctor before consuming any medicine.


acute mountain sickness

It’s hard to forecast exactly how your body will react to high altitudes because everyone is different. Your best protection against altitude sickness is not to climb too high too fast and to be ready by practicing the tips above.

If you have any existing medical conditions, like heart problems, trouble breathing, or diabetes, you should talk to your doctor before traveling to high altitude. These conditions may lead to additional complications if you get acute altitude sickness.

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Last updated 12.01.21


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1 comment

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