How to Spot and Treat Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute Mountain Sickness can be a common illness in higher altitudes, especially if you make a quick trip up to a much higher elevation or engage in heavy physical exertion at a high altitude. AMS, also known as altitude sickness or high-altitude pulmonary edema, typically occurs at elevations greater than 8,000 feet above sea level. Although headaches and shortness of breath are common symptoms, altitude sickness can also cause severe complications with the respiratory and nervous systems. How do you detect this altitude related illness?

Spot the Symptoms of AMS

There are several signs you can monitor in yourself and others to remain alert to this high-altitude hazard. People with preexisting conditions, such as a low red blood cell count due to anemia, heart or lung disease, and past bouts of acute mountain sickness require extra vigilance in monitoring AMS symptoms.

If you have a mild case of altitude sickness you may experience headache, dizziness, achy muscles, trouble sleeping, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and swelling in your hands, face, or feet.

Severe cases of AMS can generate scarier symptoms, as the illness affects your muscles, heart and circulatory system, lungs, and nervous system. Symptoms like confusion may be the result of dangerous conditions like the swelling of the brain. Shortness of breath could be caused by a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Symptoms of severe altitude sickness include coughing and chest congestion, pale skin or loss of color, a loss of motor skills or balance, psychological symptoms, and any of the symptoms listed in the previous paragraph.

Treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness

Dropping down to a lower elevation is the primary method of treatment for AMS, but consider these other points as well.

In the event of a severe case of AMS, hospitalization will be required to determine if there is swelling of the brain or fluid in the lungs. It may take more than an elevation change to treat this illness. Oxygen, blood pressure medicine, respiratory inhalers, and other medications may be necessary for the treatment of Acute Mountain Sickness. Mild cases can typically be treated by returning to a lower altitude, reducing your activity level, and hydrating with water.

Have you had AMS? Did you take care of it yourself or call for a medic? Tell us your story in the comments.