Altitude Sickness: Causes, Symptoms & Diagnosis

Acute Mountain Sickness, or Altitude Sickness, is characterized by a person having these symptoms:
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • headaches
  • fatigue and difficulty sleeping
  • increased pulse
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of appetite
  • There are metabolic and scientific reasons for this phenomenon.

    Coincidentally, medical experts agree that around 7,000 feet is the elevation where altitude sickness can become evident. Most people in the United States live at elevations of 1,500 feet or below. When people suddenly fly in to a high elevation area, the body undergoes a sort of shock due to the fact that there isn?t as much oxygen to breathe. Though the percentage of oxygen in the air (21%) is the same at high altitude as at sea level, the concentration of the molecules in the air is greatly diluted due to lower barometric pressure at high elevation. There simply isn?t as much oxygen to breathe.

    The body responds in several ways:
    • Kidneys flush more fluids out of the body. This diuretic effect helps the blood to thicken slightly and carry more red blood cells, which carry more oxygen. Everybody urinates more at higher elevations.
    • Breathing accelerates. The lungs are trying to catch up!
    • Heart rate increases. The heart is working harder to pump oxygen-carrying blood to the rest of the body.
    Everyone who suddenly comes from a low elevation to high altitude will experience these physiological changes. If you ascend into elevation too fast the body can get overloaded and you could become very sick. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) feels like you are sick of liek you are getting the flu. Altitude sickness is a fast ailment, because some people get it and others don't. Sometimes very fit people who exercise a lot will be laid low with altitude sickness. Some people have visited the mountains for years on end with no symptoms, and suddenly they?ll feel sick when they reach their slopeside condo. Though persons who are elderly, physically weak, infirm, or in poor physical condition are more likely to get altitude sickness, there are plenty of fit, young, strong, athletic people who get it.

    Climbers have developed a mantra of climb high, sleep low. In other words, in most cases they don't want to spend ta full night at the highest elevation they've reached, because acute mountain sickness symptoms can worsen at night. If you find that you're tossing and turning at night, waking frequently, urinating frequently, and experiencing headaches, you've got a good case of Acute Mountain Sickness. If someone is experiencing altitude sickness at a lower elevation and then keeps climbing to a higher elevation?such as riding a ski gondola!?symptoms will immediately worsen. Extreme cases of altitude sickness can cause fluid buildup in either the brain.

    How do you treat this illness? There are a couple of drugs on the market that can lessen the symptoms, but they can have side effects of tingling hands, ringing in the ears, and a funny taste in your mouth. Persons allergic to sulfa medications may not take these drugs. The drugs take up to 24 hours to take effect.

    Altitude sickness has two cures; either start oxygen therapy or descend to a lower elevation. Most of the medical literature on the subject of Acute Mountain Sickness or altitude sickness is oriented to the mountain climber who is ascending to very high elevations in the pursuit of conquering a high-elevation peak. Their circumstances are most often very primitive, there is very little medical help available, and all their resources must be carried on their backs.

    Most medical exoperts warn sagainst drinking or consuming alcohol while at high elevations. The tourist visitor to Colorado ski resorts has an entirely different set of circumstances. Most often he or she is staying in town at a nice hotel, condo, or mountain home, with lots of amenities and resources immediately at hand. The visitor will make excursions to higher elevations such as riding a ski lift or driving up to the top of the Pass, riding a mountain bike, or going for a hike, but will typically return to town to spend the night.

    And, once it's cocktail hour, who wants to be a teetotaler while on vacation. Most people want to enjoy a cocktail or a cold beer after a long day of skiing or mountain biking, and have a nice glass of wine with dinner. And yes, we recognize that some people?believe it or not?come to Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge to party!

    Some tips on how to avoid altitude sickness:
    • Exercise and get in shape before you come to Colorado. When your cardiovascular system is in good shape, you stand a better chance of avoiding AMS.
    • Drink lots of water. Your body will eliminate more water than usual when you?re at high elevation, so you have to increase your intake in order to avoid becoming dehydrated.
    • Moderate your alcohol intake.
    • Call us in advance to book a medical oxygen concentrator unit from us.
  • If you are taking a vacation and only need a Oxygen Concentrator for a few days or a couple of weeks, place go to our Oxygen Rental Page


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