It is not uncommon for members of national sports team to go on mountain training camps at high altitudes, but trips to the mountains can also include holiday excursions and recreational charges up the inclines. Whether it is for training or for pleasure, any altitude activity should be approached with the proper safety knowledge.
Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is an illness that can affect mountain climbers, hikers, skiers, athletes or travelers at high altitudes (usually above 2400 meters). Incredibly fit athletes are not immune to the effects of high altitudes either. AMS is caused by a combination of reduced air pressure and low oxygen levels found at high altitude and going too high too fast.
Symptoms of mountain sickness can range from mild to life-threatening, affecting the lungs, muscles, heart and nervous system. In minor to moderate cases, an individual may experience symptoms that feel most like a hangover:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath with exertion
More severe acute mountain sickness symptoms include:
- Chest tightness or congestion
- Changes in complexion – gray or pale
- Coughing (and coughing up blood)
- Cyanosis (bluish discolouration of the skin)
- Decreased consciousness
- Inability to walk in a straight line
- Mental confusion
- Shortness of breath at rest
The most severe acute mountain sickness cases may result in death due to lung problems or brain swelling, therefore an early diagnosis is obviously important as is an immediate descent to lower elevations. Anyone climbing over 3,000 meters should be prepared to carry enough oxygen for several days. While engaging in high altitude activities, one should always drink plenty of fluids (avoiding alcohol) and eat regular meals that are high in carbohydrates.
For more information on traveling to high altitudes, please visit SIRC.