As there is an increase of adventure travelers, heading to a high altitude places and staying there. It is a necessary to learn what is Acute Mountain sickness, what is the symptoms and how to prevent it and aware of it. Even though not all people might develop high altitude illness but this doesn’t mean that being physically fit will decrease your chances of developing it.
The reason for writing this post is because I had the first-hand experience of it when I was climbing up the Mt HeHuan, with an altitude of 3,485m (11,433 feet).
What is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)?
The acute mountain sickness (AMS) or commonly known as high altitude sickness is a symptom that will occur when one is at about 8,000 feet, or 2,400 meters, above sea level.
Once arriving at an altitude of more than 8000 feet (2400 meters), the symptoms will usually occur within 6 to 12 hours. Or as soon as an hour or as long as 24 hours after arriving. After adjusting to a given altitude for three or more days, the AMS symptom will subside.
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Swelling of the hands, feet, and face
- Shortness of breath with physical exertion
A short summary about high altitude sickness, shown at the hotel we stayed.
How to prevent?
The best way to try and prevent altitude sickness is to climb up (ascend) to the higher altitudes slowly. Give your body time to adjust to the condition and different people will adjust to it at a different rate.
Remember to drink enough fluids (keep well hydrated) and eat enough food (stay well nourished).
Most importantly avoid alcohol, especially in the first two days at high altitude.
Medication like Acetazolamide (Diamox®), is the most widely used medication to prevent AMS. And it is more suitable for travelers who have the symptom in the past or people who have to ascend more quickly than recommended. However, constant use of acetazolamide before ascent is not recommended.
What to do?
- Inhaled Oxygen or bring portable oxygen spray, when needed
- Return to a lower altitude, if symptom persist
- Reduce activity level
- Rest for at least a day before moving up to a higher altitude
- Stay Hydrated
- Consume high carbohydrate food
I was experiencing the mild symptom like a headache and insomnia, which are the most common symptom in AMS. I got worsened during the night. However, it wasn’t so bad and was bearable for me but it will dampen your mood.
From my experience, while climbing up Hehuanshan it is important to ascend slowly as we are not used to the high altitude. Do not rush yourself and know your limit when to stop hiking or ascend when the symptoms persist. We were lucky that the hotel we stayed in is fully equipped with oxygen concentrator and heater to keep us warm, on the second day my symptoms subside.
To know more of AMS of other high-altitude sicknesses, visit here.