Acute mountain sickness

MOUNTAIN SICKNESS : CAUSES, SYMPTOMS AND PREVENTION

It’s decided, you will spend your next holidays in the mountains ! You can not wait to enjoy stunning landscapes, epic hikes and intense emotions… However, you should be aware of acute mountain sickness, a condition which can potentially affect anybody, even young, strong and fit persons. For a successful stay, you must always remain careful and take some precautions when staying at high altitude.

WHAT IS MOUNTAIN SICKNESS ?

Acute mountain sickness, also known as Monge’s disease, is a pathological effect which usually occurs from the altitude of 2 500 meters above sea level. It is caused by an excessively quick climb to high altitude. Because of the decrease of oxygen in the air, you start to have difficulties breathing. Your body has trouble adapting, as there is not enough oxygen for the good functioning of your vital organs. As a result, your heart and respiratory frequencies increase. In severe cases, liquid can leak from your blood vessels and lead to pulmonary or cerebral edema.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MOUNTAIN SICKNESS ?

The symptoms of acute mountain sickness vary depending on the individual. Some people only show mild symptoms and their body is quickly adapting to the new environment, while some others severely suffer from the lack of oxygen. Acute mountain sickness generally occurs a few hours after the arrival at high altitude. The symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, ringing in the ears, palpitations, dizziness and fatigue. Some people also experience loss of appetite and insomnia. The most severe troubles associated with acute mountain sickness occur at very high altitude. Above 4 000 meters, you are at risk of pulmonary edema, which manifests itself by coughing attacks, breathlessness and coma. Above 5 000 meters, you may be victim of cerebral edema, which causes headaches, disturbances in mood or behavior and vision problems. These edemas may be fatal.

HOW TO PREVENT MOUNTAIN SICKNESS ?

The first measure to take before traveling to a high altitude area is to see a doctor, whether you already suffered from acute mountain sickness in the past or not. The practitioner will give you advice on the good behaviors to have, and prescribe you specific medicines to take before or after your ascent if necessary (like Diamox for example).

Never go up in altitude too fast. It is better to take regular breaks and to climb progressively (not more than 300 to 400 meters of difference in height per day). Once arrived at your destination in the mountains, don’t make efforts, and rest during the first two days of your stay. Don’t take sedatives or tranquilizers, and avoid drinking alcohol. As the climate in the mountains is usually fresh, it is important that you wear adequate clothes to avoid hypothermia, which can worsen the symptoms of mountain sickness. Always protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat and protective clothes. During your stay, it is also important to drink a lot of water and to have a healthy diet.

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