Whether you are planning a hunting trip in Alaska, a skiing trip in Colorado, or a relaxing vacation to a lodge in the mountains, there is one very important thing to prepare yourself for—acute mountain sickness. This is a medical condition that is caused by ascending altitudes too quickly. Acute mountain sickness can become very serious and deadly within a short period of time, especially when treatment is not given ASAP. A huge factor in getting prompt treatment is in being able to recognize symptoms before they worsen. Here's what you need to know about acute mountain sickness and prevention tips so your dream vacation doesn't become a nightmare.
What causes acute mountain sickness?
Acute mountain sickness is caused by changes in the air pressure at higher altitudes. At higher altitudes, the air pressure is lower and your body will have a difficult time getting enough oxygen into your bloodstream and vital organs. When your body senses that there is a lack of oxygen, your respiratory system will try to compensate for the lack of oxygen by speeding your breathing rate. As this happens, the body also shifts the balance of salt in your blood in hopes of allowing oxygen to be absorbed into your body more easily. However, this ends up causing your blood to be too acidic. These factors cause acute mountain sickness.
What are the symptoms and what should you do if you have them?
Symptoms of acute mountain sickness includes headaches, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, confusion, nausea, vomiting, decreased coordination, difficulty doing normal activities, decreased cognitive skills, loss of major motor skills, inability to walk, and seizures. When reading those symptoms, think about how your recreational activities on your trip could be affected and how dangerous the activities could become, particularly when handling a firearm or when skiing near trees.
It's important to understand that you will only feel slightly off at first, but your health can rapidly decline if you do not stop immediately and take precautions. In particular, if you feel any of the listed symptoms in even a small capacity, stop ascending and wait several days for your body to acclimate. Alternatively, if you feel your symptoms are more moderate, it's highly recommended to descend to a lower altitude rather than trying to acclimatize where you started feeling sick.
What previous medical conditions can make you more susceptible?
There are some previous medical conditions that can easily make people more susceptible to getting acute mountain sickness when ascending altitudes. Since the respiratory rate is affected, anyone who has had a lung or respiratory system problem in the past should have a complete medical evaluation done prior to leaving for their vacation at higher altitudes. People who have or have had medical conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should consider other similar types of excursions and recreational destinations that are not at higher altitudes, such as hunting antelope in Florida as opposed to hunting bear in Alaska.
What are some things you can do to help prevent acute mountain sickness?
In addition to knowing what the symptoms are and finding a safe altitude for acclimation, there is another thing you can do to help prevent acute mountain sickness while on your vacation. Use supplemental portable oxygen products. These are containers of oxygen that allow you to take a breath of oxygen that is at the appropriate air pressure for your body to be able to absorb the oxygen. These products can be purchased online or at most sporting goods stores that cater to hunters, skiers, and mountain climbers.