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Altitude – Related Sickness and Illnesses

2 min read
Altitude - Related Sickness and Illnesses

Acute Canyoning Sickness, Altitude Sickness or AMS

Acute Canyoning Sickness is also often called Altitude Sickness. The symptoms of AMS can be unpleasant enough to spoil your climb. In some cases, it also can be fatal. However, if you understand the cause of AMS then you can take many steps to avoid it or minimize its effects.

Atmospheric pressure and the oxygen content of the air decrease in an approximately exponential manner as altitude increases. This means that as you climb higher, the breath you take contains less oxygen. For most climbers, this effect becomes apparent at around 3000 metres.

Acclimatization is the resetting of your physiological mechanisms which allows the body to return oxygen levels in the tissues to normal or near-normal. As this process is not instantaneous, and when your rate of ascent is faster than the body’s ability to adjust to the gain in altitude, AMS occurs. The symptoms of AMS can be unpleasant, serious, or even fatal. It is therefore essential that your own rate of ascent should allow for this adjustment. Keep in mind that there is a lot of variation between individuals, but each person’s response to altitude is fairly constant on different occasions, given similar conditions and speed of ascent.

Symptoms and Treatment
AMS develops usually in the first eight to 24 hours at high altitude. Below 3000 meters, it occurs less often: mild symptoms include headache, poor appetite, dizziness, and drowsiness, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and poor sleep quality. At this stage, you should stop your ascent. Rest, have frequent meals, take mild painkillers, and keep on drinking water. Do not take alcoholic drinks. If the symptoms worsen to severe headache and vomiting, stop your ascent and descent to a lower altitude where the symptoms abate after a day or two of rest. After that, you could resume the climb.

In its most severe form, Altitude Sickness can progress to either Pulmonary Oedema (fluid on the lungs) or Cerebral Oedema (swelling of the brain).

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