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Mountain sickness – What happens when you are exposed to high altitudes?

Understand what your body experiences when climbing in high mountains.

The human body can adjust to different types of environment in a very short period. However, every change in the pressure causes more or less discomfort, and it might be followed by certain effects. Professional mountain climbers and trekkers are familiar with the condition called altitude sickness, which is caused by the thin air and lack of oxygen.

What triggers the illness?

Also known as the AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness, the illness affects both professional athletes and amateurs, at 7500 ft altitudes and higher. In this situation, discomfort happens usually when the acclimatization period was not long enough. The body is struggling with extreme conditions and doesn’t have enough oxygen, which can lead to more serious problems.

Who can be affected by AMS?

If you are into the mountain climbing, trekking, hiking, skiing, or similar extreme sports, you are at risk. Although the skiers have the lowest chances to get the symptoms of AMS (because of the constant changing in altitude levels), other sports mentioned are more likely to cause this condition. If you are planning to join the expedition to Mount Everest, go climbing mountain kilimanjaro, or conquer the Alps, you should take certain precautions and prepare yourself properly. Being fit and well prepared for extreme weather and low oxygen levels is necessary if you want to prevent potential health issues.

Another very high-risk group are people who suffer from serious conditions like lung problems or heart disorders. The lack of oxygen will affect them more than other climbers without great health. Before deciding to climb the mountain, it is very important to visit the doctor and discuss the potential risks.  Extreme weather and thin air can cause different discomfort, and that is why the doctor’s approval is mandatory in some cases.

What are the usual AMS symptoms?

Being exposed to thinner air affects normal body functions. Since the oxygen is necessary to maintain regular activities in the brain, lower levels of this precious gas trigger the signals to alarm the body something is wrong. Therefore, the headaches are usually the first sign of the illness, as well as fatigue, nausea, and shortness of breath. You might also experience problems with sleeping and lack of appetite. Studies have shown the main reason for this condition is different blood flow, caused by the ascent.

How to treat the AMS?

Professional mounting climbers are familiar with the procedures and measures necessary for avoiding altitude sickness. First, you will have to rest and be patient. Some people need more time to adjust to higher altitudes than others. This is why serious climbing expeditions are divided into stages. Spending enough time in the rest camps (located on different altitudes) is one of the basic rules. In case the symptoms remain or even get worse, it is highly recommended to go back to the previous rest camp until the person recovers. Besides this, there are also specific medications used by professional climbers, which can speed up the recovery process.

Camping in mountains

Mountain sickness is an illness that affects people exposed to low oxygen levels. This condition is caused by a change that occurs in the human’s brain and blood flow. The illness is common for mountain climbers and usually doesn’t cause any serious health problems. However, to avoid illness and body discomfort, certain precautions like acclimatization have to be taken.

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