All You Need to Know about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
It might sound cute, but don’t be fall for it or else it will definitely take your breath away. (ah the pun!)
Acute mountain sickness or altitude sickness is a medical condition induced by the paucity of oxygen in your body. As you move above the sea level the barometric pressure of the atmosphere falls. Hence the partial pressure of oxygen falls.
Your body is adapted to breathing air with a particular level of oxygen. When this level reduces your body has to re-adapt to the changed conditions. Now it’s your body, not those hot instant noodles you love. So your body needs some time to adjust. Maybe you are a tough guy, strong girl but your brain isn’t. Instead, it’s a sensitive sweetheart and cares too much about you. So as soon as it detects that you are not getting your routine normal dose of oxygen, it immediately brings about various changes in your body’s mechanism so that you don’t suffer despite the diminished oxygen levels.
Hence your brain and body functioning in-sync with each other, are sufficient to prevent AMS. But no, you don’t give enough time. You don’t allow your body to acclimatize. And what happens when your body can’t cope with the rate your environment is changing? AMS happens.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Remember the mnemonic FIND Headache. (5 Symptoms)
F – Fatigue or Excessive Exhaustion
I – Insomnia or the Inability to fall asleep
N – Nausea or Vomiting
D – Dizziness
Along with this breathlessness and/or coughing is also a commonly observed symptom.
It is very important to note that just because you feel tired or have a mild headache or simply have any one of these symptoms, shouldn’t necessarily mean that you have AMS.
Similarly, if you have AMS that doesn’t mean you should have all of the symptoms.It’s manifestation depends from person to person.
Should you suffer from any one of them, I repeat even just one of them, inform your trek leader at once. You simply might have dehydration because you didn’t drink the indispensable 4 liters of water. Or you might feel tired because you aren’t eating sufficiently or aren’t used to the exertion. Yet, don’t take an un-informed independent decision. Trek leaders will take a good care of you and help you find a solution. In short tell them, when you don’t feel ‘alright’.
HOW SERIOUS IS IT?
AMS can be anything between absolutely mild to alarmingly lethal. The point of worry is due to the fact that it can accelerate from mild symptoms to an emergency- medical condition very rapidly if proper measures are not taken.
There are 4 levels of accelerating hierarchy in AMS:
〉 Mild AMS:
Initial onset of symptoms (one or more). Can be managed easily. Discontinue your ascent. And descent a little, if the need arises. Adequate rest must be taken. Start on the medically advised dose of Diamox
〉 Moderate AMS:
Worsening of symptoms despite taking precautionary measures. Descent immediately. Continue with Diamox. Again manageable.
〉 HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) and HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema):
These both are the fatal versions of AMS. Immediate evacuation and descent required. And urgent medical help needed.
Now, don’t panic. Not right now, not when you begin having symptoms. HAPE and HACE, as much dangerous they might be, they are equally unlikely to happen. And as for AMS, timely care is sufficient. The only spoilsport will be you might have to end your trek early.
All in all adequate water, food and rest plus a couple of preventive measures will help you keep AMS at bay. Like they say all’s well that ends well!
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