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The Manual: Stay Healthy at Altitude

Play it safe against altitude sickness.
altitude sickness illo 445x260Illustration by Supercorn

Recognize it

>> Acute Mountain Sickness
Low atmospheric pressure at altitude reduces air density and makes it difficult for the vascular system to absorb and circulate oxygen. AMS is your body’s response to the oxygen deficiency. Symptoms Nausea, vomiting, headache, insomnia, fatigue Severity Similar to a hangover; mild symptoms appear within 10 hours. Probability In Summit County, Colorado, one quarter of visitors experience symptoms of AMS above 8,000 feet, and nearly half do at 10,000 feet.

>> High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
Fluid buildup in the lungs Symptoms Dry cough, shortness of breath at rest, severe trouble breathing Severity HAPE is the most common cause of altitude-related deaths. Probability Severe cases are rare, but one in 100 climbers above 14,000 feet experiences symptoms that require treatment.

>> High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
Fluid-caused cranial pressure Symptoms Mental impairment, confusion, loss of coordination/balance Severity HACE can be fatal; immediate descent is required. Probability Can occur above 10,000 feet, but is rare below 14,000 feet.

The best prep? Spend time hiking above 8,000 feet. But if you live at sea level, build aerobic capacity by exercising at 70 percent of your max heart rate four times a week. Also, maintain your iron level, which helps with oxygen delivery. Take supplements or eat iron-rich foods, like red meat and greens.

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1 Comment

  1. An Unexpected Refuge (Acrylic on Panel, 5×7″) | S.TAYAG

    […] What the heck was wrong with us? Two words: Altitude. Sickness. It hits you out of nowhere, and can get anyone at any time. It makes you totally exhausted. Altitude sickness can be dangerous if it develops into HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema), but the acute form is the most common form and least worrisome. The headache, I think, is the worst part, but I’d take an acute altitude sickness over a migraine on a sunny trail any day (this actually happened once). Ultimately, it’s important that you know the elevation of where you’re going, give yourself time to acclimate, know the signs and … […]

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