Altitude sickness is an illness that typically affects people at a high altitude, normally at or above 6,000 feet above sea level, such as skiers, mountain climbers, hikers, or travelers to the great city of Colorado Springs.
Every year, millions of people who love the outdoors set off to the mountains of Colorado to have an adventure. Traveling to high altitudes, whether one is hunting, backpacking, skiing, or mountain climbing, has drawbacks for some.
Often, people who visit higher elevations are traveling there from much lower elevations. The large difference between elevations (Colorado Springs 6035 feet) may leave some feeling physically uncomfortable. For those who aren’t used to big increases in elevation at all, it can be very shocking to the body.
The higher one goes above sea level, the less oxygen there is in the air they’re breathing. For those who typically live at or below 5,000 feet, their bodies are not accustomed to operating in an environment with so little oxygen in the air from the higher altitudes. These people may begin to experience the symptoms of altitude sickness, which can also be called Acute Mountain Sickness, and is very uncomfortable.
Many travelers begin to experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness at 6,000 feet, and moderate symptoms at heights over 8,000 feet above sea level. Their risk of developing symptoms increase at heights between 10,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level, where individuals usually feel more severe symptoms of the disease. A person may experience symptoms that are very dangerous to their mental and physical health if they try to stay at an altitude greater than 18,000 feet for a length of time longer than a few weeks.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Some of the initial symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) include insomnia, nausea, headache, weakness, and lightheadedness. Some people may experience swelling in their hands or feet. Often, those who are affected find that they feel the symptoms dramatically for the first few days at a high elevation, and then feel better as their bodies begin to adjust to the higher elevation.
More severe (dangerous) symptoms could include issues breathing, even when at rest, being unable to walk in a straight line, coughing, and general confusion.
If you are having these more dangerous symptoms you should seek out medical help urgently, as you could be suffering from a more serious kind of altitude sickness. Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms can occur within two days of arriving at an elevation that is higher than usual. The higher you are, the worse the symptoms can be.
Prevent Acute Mountain Sickness
There are multiple degrees of severity, and this can be quite a serious problem, but it is also one that can be prevented. One good way to reduce the effects of altitude on the body is to gradually increase altitude. If you cannot ascend slowly, especially if you must fly to a destination, there are more things that you can try to do to help stay safe and healthy:
- Limit heavy physical activity for the first 24 hours.
- Consume additional fluids.
- Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume as it is a diuretic.
- Reduce alcohol consumption, as its effects are greater at higher altitudes.
- Take the time to rest regularly.
Acclimatization to High Altitudes
The process of adjusting to a higher altitude is different for every individual. Some people can adjust in as little as a day, and others may need up to three or four, so it’s vital to take the time that your body needs before heading to a higher altitude.
Even the most physically fit members of your group could suffer from Acute Mountain Sickness as there is less air pressure and less oxygen at higher altitudes that can be a problem for anyone – regardless of physical condition.
Altitude Sickness With Other Medical Issues
Travelers with medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or COPD who also experience altitude sickness should see a medical professional immediately upon developing symptoms.
High altitude, combined with excessive heat of a warm summer and dehydration can be especially troublesome.
If you are experiencing signs of altitude sickness and you can safely come to ER Specialists, we would love to help you. If you are alone or have any doubt about getting to our facility safely, or, believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call 911.