You may be astounded to know that altitude sickness causes serious injuries and even takes the lives of many people who seek an easy way to breathe clean, fresh oxygen. Skiers, mountain bikers, rock climbers and hikers like to brave the elements in order to experience that brisk sensation. And surprisingly every year many of these people die of altitude sickness. It’s no surprise, however, that all of these deaths are preventable. If you are traveling above 8,000 feet (approx. 2,500 meters), the following information could save your life.
Altitude sickness comes in three three forms: AMS, HAPE and HACE.
AMS, or acute mountain sickness, is a mild form of altitude sickness and its symptoms are quite similar to that of a hangover. AMS causes nauseousness, headaches, insomnia, dizziness and fatigue. This form of altitude sickness is actually very common and some people are only slightly affected by it. Others, however, feel terrible and if you do find yourself with having AMS, you should take this as a warning sign that if not treated properly, it could develop into one of the two forms of serious and deadly altitude sickness: HAPE and HACE – both of which can be fatal within hours.
HAPE, or high altitude pulmonary edema, is a life-threatening form of non-cardiogenic pulmonary edema that occurs in otherwise healthy mountaineers. HAPE occurs when there is fluid accumulation in the lungs and at least two of the following symptoms appear: Difficulty in breathing (dyspnea) at rest; cough; weakness or decreased exercise performance; and chest tightness or congestion. HAPE can also produce an elevation of body temperature, thus causing a fever, and the production of frothy saliva. One should realize that it is never normal to feel breathless when at rest, even at the greatest of high altitudes. This should be taken as a sign that HAPE is present and your life is at immediate risk. HAPE is also accompanied by at least two of the following signs: Crackles or wheezing (while breathing) in at least one lung field; central cyanosis (blue skin color); tachypnea (rapid shallow breathing); and tachycardia (rapid heart-rate).
HACE, or high altitude cerebral edema, is the most severe form of altitude sickness and is usually fatal. HACE is the result of brain tissue swelling from fluid leakage and always begins as AMS. Symptoms therefore usually include those of AMS plus a headache, loss of coordination (ataxia), and decreasing levels of consciousness including disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, irrational behavior such as violence, and even coma. Drowsiness and loss of consciousness occur shortly before death. An added danger of HACE is the tendency of its victims to deny that they have any problems at all.
Treatment of HAPE and HACE include immediate altitude descent, dexamethasone and acetazolamide. Pressure bags and pure oxygen can also buy time. While both severe forms of HAPE and HACE are treatable, prevention is the key as two things are certain to make altitude sickness very likely: ascending faster than 500 meters per day and exercising vigorously. Physically fit individuals are not protected as even Olympic athletes get altitude sickness. Altitude sickness happens because there is less oxygen in the air to breathe and so taking oxygen with you if you are able to is the smart choice.
We highly recommend the SimplyGo’ Portable Oxygen Bar Delivery System. SimplyGo’ will make you breathe easier at higher elevations and could save your life if you are in distress.