Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is caused by insufficient adaptation to the low oxygen pressure at high altitude. Any traveler can experience AMS when staying for 4-8 hours above 2500m. People who fly directly to destinations such as Cusco, Peru and La Paz, Bolivia should be aware of the possibility of AMS.
Symptoms of AMS may be mild and include headache, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, insomnia, dizziness and general tiredness. A small number of people can develop more serious symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Symptoms of HAPE include a dry cough and shortness of breath at rest. HACE causes profound lethargy, drowsiness, confusion, slurring of speech, and difficulty walking in a straight line. If symptoms of HACE or HAPE appear a person requires immediate descent and medical attention. Both HACE and HAPE can be fatal if a person does not descend to a lower altitude.
How can I prevent AMS?
- Ascend gradually, when possible. The process of acclimatizing to high altitude takes 3-5 days. Staying for a few days at an intermediate altitude (between 1500-2500m) before moving higher will help prevent AMS and improve sleep and well-being.
- Once above 2,750m ensure sleeping altitude is no higher than 500m per day, and plan an extra day to acclimatize every 1,000m.
- During the day climb higher than your sleeping altitude to encourage acclimatization (climb high, sleep low)
- Avoid sleeping pills and alcohol use
- Avoid strenuous activity for the first 48 hours
- Ensure adequate fluid intake
- Consider taking acetazolomide (diamox) to speed acclimatization, starting 2 days before ascending and continue until 2-3 days after reaching maximum altitude.
Call us at 604-251-1975 to arrange an appointment or to receive further information about AMS.