Adjust yourself to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Acute Mountain Sickness is an altitude related effect to your body. This happens when your body cannot adapt efficiently to the high altitude. You need not to climb Mount Everest to start feeling the pain from altitude sickness. Whether it is shortness of breath, nausea, or exhaustion, this can totally mess up your trip plan. But with simple precaution you can easily avoid this and adjust yourself to the altitude to have an amazing trip.

What is Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

When you travel to altitude higher than 2800 meters / 9200 feet, your body takes in far less oxygen per breath than your minimum requirement which causes altitude sickness. This can happen to any one regardless of your age, gender or fitness level. You might be surprised that this happened to Sir Edmund Hillary.

Adjust to Acute Mountain Sickness
Adjusting to Acute Mountain Sickness

It is the reaction of your body trying to adjust to the decreasing amount of oxygen level. By rule of thumb, the higher you go, your body needs more oxygen to carry it usual activities. Normally it is above 2,800 meters / 9,200 feet that this happens, but this is different for everyone. But the tolerance level differs from person to person. After you go higher the changes of Acute Mountain Sickness also increases. With a certain increase in elevation, you will some changes with how you are feeling. Trekking in the Himalayas require a certain level of preparedness.

If by any chance you feel that your body is not normal or you are having some kind of uneasiness, talk your your guide immediately. Remember, be weary of what your guide says/instructs to you. The guide is an expert in these extreme conditions and he would guide you or take necessary actions as required.

Symptoms of mild to moderate Acute Mountain Sickness

No one other than you know what is happening to yourself. You should be able the changes happening to your body and monitor your own health. Symptoms happen anywhere from 1-2 hours to 8-10 hours after the accent. Symptoms might be one or combination of the following:

  • Insomnia.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Rapid pulse (heart rate)
  • Swelling of hands, feet & face.
  • Shortness of breath with exertion.

These symptoms may be mild to moderate and might subside after a day’s rest. But if ignored this could ultimately lead to death. Hence these symptoms should be taken very seriously.

Adjust to altitude the right way

  • Drink plenty of water
    As you go higher up and gain altitude you body tends to lose water and salt at a much faster pace. The amount of physical activity and the dry air at high altitude hence leads to dehydration. So make sure that you replenish yourself with plenty of water when required.
  • Reduce your exercise
    The higher you go the air gets thinner and every single breath brings in muss less oxygen. But you body strengthens and adjusts to this atmosphere over time. To put things short, your cardiovascular system is working extra harder. Since every breath that you take brings in much less oxygen your heart will be beating faster. So in order for your body to adjust, it is best advised to take a few days rest after you reach 1500 meters. You will get accustomed and get ready to continue your journey.
  • Get enough sleep
    Insomnia is one of the symptoms of altitude sickness, and this will adversely affect to get enough rest. A good sleep can do wonders and help beat this issue. One common practice is going to a lower altitude to sleep during the night. If possible, you can also take a short nap at stopovers during the trek.
  • Limit alcohol intake
    Alcohol intake not only replicates many of the AMS symptoms but it also increases the dehydration of the body. If you are trying to acclimatize, your alcohol intake makes it a lot more harder. The hydration process is worsened by alcohol intake. You should at least wait for 48 hours before you hit the bar.
  • Increase your potassium intake
    The loss of Potassium is a pretty standard symptom if you’re feeling dehydrated from dry at higher altitude.¬†Muscle cramping is one of the most common symptom. Your diet should include food with higher potassium level, like yogurt, banana, avocado, spinach and so on.
  • Protect yourself from the sun
    The air is thinner at higher altitude and hence you will receive more exposure to the sun. To protect yourself from the sun you can carry a sunscreen (with higher SPF), use lip balm, wear a pair of sunglasses and wear a sunhat what cover your face, neck and ears.
  • Consume more calories
    Your body has to work more at higher elevation due to lower oxygen in your body. So it need much more energy. To compensate this your diet should include a high-calorie complete with carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These will have all the necessary ingredients to keep your body running smoothly. You can also keep an energy bar handy.
  • Take Medications as required
    # Acetazolamide, to correct breathing problems
    # blood pressure medicine
    # lung inhalers
    # Dexamethasone, to decrease brain swelling
    # Aspirin, for headache relief

Remember that it is not just going to higher altitude but the speed of accent that causes Acute Mountain Sickness. So, it is always recommended to take regular breaks. You should walk at a slower pace and avoid overexertion. Every individual has they own physical threshold and you should not pass that. Walk slow and steadily steps. Enjoy your moment in the Himalayas.