AMS = Acute Mountain Sickness
It really sucks to suffer from AMS during a high altitude trek/climb. As much as we want to accept that it is inevitable to be affected by altitude as we ascend, we want to avoid it since it can be managed. While I have been able to keep “AMS” in control during my climbs all these years, I had suffered from altitude sickness in my earlier climbing days. I will still be susceptible to AMS if I am not careful. I experienced mild headache when I was on Mt Damavand’s high camp at about 4600m some 4 months ago. The often you climb high, the better your body can manage at altitude. But no one is really immune to oxygen deficiency environment.
Moving slowly and feeling breathless on an ascend is normal. It is because the thin air makes you feel lethargic and prevent you from performing your best even when you have sufficient physical training prior to the climb. Therefore, feeling breathless and a bit of headache are norms, and almost always happen. What is crucial is to prevent these usual symptoms from acting up that may lead to life-threatening altitude sickness such as the Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), and Cerebral edema (swelling of the brain).
Here, I have 4 simple tips to help prevent altitude sickness:
Tip # 1 – Have sufficient sleep the week leading to your departure day
Because you are going on a 2-weeks leave, and you need to get your work done to hand over to your colleague(s). You feel bad that your colleagues have to cover your duties. So the last few days before you go on leave you spend most of your time working late into the night. You have little sleep. You think it is fine because you can catch up with your sleep on the plane. The strategy is TOTALLY WRONG! Sleep debt is hard to repay. It takes a long time to catch up with your lost sleep and before you know it you are already heading for the hills. Your chance of buying more sleep is slim. Lack of sleep is one of the reasons for having headache.
Tip # 2 – Drink enough water the week leading to your departure day
Staying hydrated during the trek/climb is important, even more so before you arrive at an elevation. Many people fail to take note of this aspect of a pre-climb preparation. We need to constantly feed our body with fluid to stay hydrated and healthy. Take extra care of your water intake. A person who perspires heavily will need to drink more than someone who doesn’t. Thirst isn’t the best indicator that you need to drink. If you get thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Well hydrated body don’t happen overnight.
Tip # 3 – Move like a Tortise when at an elevation
This tip is probably known by many already. But what is unknown is that a simple rush of time can cause a headache to act up. Examples – walking fast or running up/down the stairs in the guesthouses. Hopping from one rock to another during the trek. Getting up too fast from a squat. Treat yourself like an old fellow or like a tortise, avoid making drastic movement.
Tip # 4 – Drink 1 Litre of water every morning during the trek/climb
Dehydration can be a serious condition that can lead to problems ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke. The risk of dehydration is higher when in cold and high places. So staying hydrated during a trek/climb is vital. Every night before you sleep, fill up your water bottle (1 litre preferred) with hot water and keep it with you in your sleeping bag. Drink up your water when you wake up in the morning. As you have kept your water in your sleeping bag, your body temperature will help prevent the water from turning too cold which makes it easy to drink.
As I have mentioned earlier, no one can fully immune to altitude sickness. But we can take preventive measures to reduce the risk of getting AMS. People who have anemia, and high/low blood pressure tend to suffer more at high elevation; consult your doctor before you travel.
Plan your schedule earlier so you don’t have to rush to go out to play. Try out the 4 simple tips, it will only make your next high adventure more enjoyable.