Altitude Sickness Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Altitude sickness is also known as acute mountain sickness and is an effect of being in a high altitude. It commonly occurs above eight thousand feet or higher. Many skiers or hikers at high altitudes will experience the symptoms of altitude sickness. These symptoms can range from mild to life threatening. These symptoms affect the nervous system, the lungs, the muscles and the heart. In most cases these symptoms are mild, however the higher up in elevation one goes the less oxygen one gets and the more problematic the issue becomes. Primary symptoms are headaches along with a lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and shortness of breath. These symptoms closely mimic those of someone experiencing a heat stroke. Altitude sickness can cause pulmonary edema which means that fluid collects in the lungs. This further reduces oxygen into the blood stream and very rapidly reaches vital organs and tissues. Brain swelling can occur causing confusion and if untreated death.

Altitude sickness can occur more rapidly if someone is climbing quickly into higher altitudes. The severe symptoms depend on this factor in fact as well as how much someone is exerting themselves. For people who live at lower levels or levels closer to sea level, climbing into higher altitudes can cause altitude sickness a lot faster than someone who lives closer to mountain elevations. Altitude sickness is caused by the percentage of oxygen in the air growing thinner the higher someone goes. The air pressure at higher elevations also changes as the air grows thinner. Consequently the available oxygen in the air to sustain mental and physical acuity decreases above ten thousand feet. Because of the higher elevation the water vapor in the lungs starts to evaporate quicker which causes dehydration.

Altitude sickness can be treated by prompt return to lower elevation. The medical community at large has advocated prevention and education for this problem rather than treatment however. Altitude sickness can be prevented by educating mountain travelers before ascending into the higher elevations. The education concerning altitude sickness is mostly about recognizing the possible symptoms and thereby creating awareness about the dangers of hiking into the mountains.

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