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Altitude 101 - OutdoorPlaces.Com

 Altitude Basics - Page Two

altitude sicknessAltitude Illness can effect anyone.  Your physical condition, gender, or race doesnít matter.  Although certain medical conditions, especially cardiopulmonary diseases like asthma and emphysema are aggravated at altitudes above 3,500 feet, even healthy adults with no medical problems can have serious medical issues at altitudes as low as 6,000 feet.

You should keep in mind that if you live below 3,500 feet, your chances of experiencing AMS, HAPE, or HACE are three to five times higher than someone who lives above 3,500 feet.  If you have ever experienced any of these medical conditions before, your chances are almost three times higher that you will experience altitude related medical problems again than a person going to altitude for the first time.

Also, bad weather, which is brought on by low atmospheric pressure can add another 750 feet to your altitude.  That means that if you are on top Harney Peak in South Dakota, elevation of 7,242 feet, during a rain storm it could feel like you are at 8,000 feet.  At even higher altitudes this can make a major difference.

 AMS - Acute Mountain Sickness

The symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness, or AMS, can be experienced at any altitude above 6,000 feet for normal, healthy adults,  Symptoms may appear after four hours but can take as long as a week to appear.  Symptoms include a shortness of breath even at rest, headache, nausea, dizziness, redness of the face, fingernails appearing blue, and loss of appetite.  Extreme cases of AMS can result in vomiting and passing out.  If you experience any of these conditions you should drop from 1,500 to 3,000 feet in altitude and rest.  Typically this offers almost immediate relief.  In severe cases of AMS, symptoms can last for as long as three days after dropping altitude.  If you experience severe AMS symptoms, especially passing out, a physician should evaluate you.
 HAPE - High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, or HAPE, can be experienced at any altitude above 12,000 feet, and in some rare cases as low as 10,000 feet.  Symptoms may appear instantly, but usual appear the morning of the second day above 10,000 feet.  Symptoms include a dry, uncontrollable, hacking cough, blue lips, loss of color, and in severe cases the cough can produce pink foam.  HAPE is a very dangerous condition that can result in death.  People experiencing these conditions need to drop 1,500 to 3,000 feet altitude as quickly as possible, will require supplemental oxygen therapy, hyperbolic chamber therapy, and immediate medical care from a physician.
 HACE - High Altitude Cerebral Edema
The most dangerous from of altitude sickness is High Altitude Cerebral Edema, or HACE.  HACE can be experienced at altitudes above 19,000 feet and is a serious medical condition that can be fatal.  Symptoms may take days to appear and include poor judgment, loss of basic motor skills, especially in the hands, inability to perform simple tasks, and in severe cases black outs, coma and death.  Part of what makes HACE so dangerous is the early symptoms tend to cloud judgment resulting in the victim ignoring or denying their medical condition.  If you suspect someone in your party is suffering from HACE, you should try to make them walk heel-to-toe on a line like a field sobriety test.  If the victim can not pass this test, there is a very strong indication they are suffering from HACE.  People experiencing these conditions need to drop 1,500 to 3,000 feet in altitude immediately, will require supplemental oxygen therapy, and immediate medial care from a physician.
 I Don't Feel So Good

When you are in high altitude areas you should follow one hard and fast rule.  If you or a person in your party displays any of the symptoms of AMS, HAPE, or HACE it should be assumed they have an altitude related medical condition until being ruled out by a trained physician.  Proper action should be taken immediately to safe guard your personal health.  Pushing to the top of a mountain is not worth your life and you should not hide or deny these conditions.  People who experience HACE symptoms should never under any circumstances be left alone.  High altitude, terrain and HACE make for a deadly combination.  Finally, if you are involved in extreme mountaineering you need to remember that rescue above 18,000 feet is very difficult, and in some cases impossible.  Donít let symptoms progress to the point that your or a victim can not be moved.  Ultimately when you are mountaineering, you are responsible for your own well being.

Preventing altitude illness...

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