You may be shocked 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. Every year many of these people die of altitude sickness. The following information could save your life!

Altitude sickness can be found in three three forms: AMS, HAPE and HACE. AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is a mild form of altitude sickness and its symptoms similar to a hangover. If you do find yourself having symptoms of AMS, you should take this as a warning sign. If not treated properly, it could develop into one of the two forms of serious and deadly altitude sickness. HAPE and HACE and both 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 a minimum of two of the following symptoms appear:

Difficulty in breathing (dyspnea) idle; 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 occurs and your life is at immediate risk. HAPE is also accompanied by a minimum of 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. 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.

Treatment of HAPE and HACE include:

  • Immediate altitude descent is absolutely essential
  • Dexamethasone and acetazolamide should both be given, if available
  • Pressure bags and oxygen gas can 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 likely: ascending faster than 500 meters each 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 consequently taking oxygen with you if you have the ability to is the smart choice.

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