Acute Mountain sickness or High Altitude Sickness

Increasingly popular high altitude adventure holidays to the Himalayas requires awareness on Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or High Altitude Sickness (HAS). Every trekker and climber from 3000 meter above sea level is affected by Acute mountain sickness in some degrees, could be mild one. Every mild symptom must be handled carefully. Ignoring the mild symptoms may turn into a terrible situation, even threatening to a life.

Being young and fit does not prevent from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or Altitude Sickness. We cannot predict who will be in trouble and who will escape of it. Sometimes, even the experienced climbing guides have the sickness. Seriousness of affect differentiates from person to person. Younger people are often affected because they push themselves faster to achieve a greater height within a short period. There is nothing to do with our strength and fitness. It does not mean that an athlete would do better in the high altitude. AMS is deeply related with experience, acclimatization and red blood cell count that carries Oxygen into the tissues of our body. "Higher altitude, thinner oxygen", the higher we climb the thinner oxygen we find in the atmosphere. The low volume of oxygen in our blood (Hypoxia) causes the AMS.

It is hard to explain the discomfort of altitude sickness to someone who has not experienced it. In 1997, one of my clients on the way to Mt. Everest base camp called it as "Slow Suicide Attempt". Another American trekker said, "For sure, a mother at birth labor does not have this much of discomfort as I have been through here". In this way, every survivor of AMS has an expression in their own way. For me, I fully lost appetite and strength. The headache was so deep in the brain on both sides. I could not even open my eyes due to headache. Fortunately, my body had acclimatized within some hours. I was fine in the following morning.

“Prevention is better than cure"
"Too fast, too high, is dangerous"
"Hike higher and sleep at lower altitude"
"Go slow, allow your body to acclimatize"
"No Medication can be substitution of acclimatization"

The basic theory is a gradual ascend with acclimatization stops. Acclimatization at high altitude increases the red blood cell. Different individuals may acclimatize at different time duration; from a few hours or one day to three days at a place. While you acclimatize you should keep drinking water, water, and water… Some people prefer to drink light tea instead of water. Urinating is a good sign of you are doing fine up there. Plenty of fluid intake is required while descending, too. A person with blood pressure and cardiac problem should not try to ascend higher altitude. Also, the person suffering from anemia should avoid going high altitude because of their reduced red blood cell count.

When we go at higher altitude, it is not recommended to ascend more than 300 to 500 meters (depending on a person) in a day, unless one is well acclimatized to that elevation. One must descend at least 300 to 500 meter before if the symptoms worsen, must keep drinking water. Elevation from 1500 meter to 3500 meter is known as moderate high altitude, 3500 meter to 5500 meter is known as very high altitude and above 5500 meter is known as extreme high altitude. Human body can acclimatize at any category of high altitude at its suitable time frame.

You may have sleeping difficulty at high altitude, "High Altitude Insomnia". High Altitude Insomnia should never be tried to treat with medication.

*Breathing difficulty (Gasping)
*Short or irregular breathing even at sleep
*Swelling on face, arms, legs and fingers
*Loss of appetite, Fatigue and dizziness
*Sleeplessness at night
*Persistent headache and Vomiting
*Do not climb too high too fast
*Acclimatize as long as you can
*Do not try to stay with medicine
*Drink a lot of fluid
*Descend at least 300 to 500 meter
*Tell your health condition to your guide
*Do not ignore the symptoms
*The best solution is to descend as lower as you can.

-If symptoms are ignored;
*High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE-Fluid in brain)
*High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE-Fluid in lungs)

There will very little chance of survival if any of the symptoms is ignored.