Acute Mountain Sickness

Acute mountain sickness is a temporary illness that may affect both the beginner and experienced climber. Soldiers are subject to this sickness in altitudes as low as 5,000 feet. Incidence and severity increases with altitude, and when quickly transported to high altitudes. Disability and ineffectiveness can occur in 50 to 80 percent of the troops who are rapidly brought to altitudes above 10,000 feet. At lower altitudes, or where ascent to altitudes is gradual, most personnel can complete assignments with moderate effectiveness and little discomfort.

a. Personnel arriving at moderate elevations (5,000 to 8,000 feet) usually feel well for the first few hours; a feeling of exhilaration or well-being is not unusual. There may be an initial awareness of breathlessness upon exertion and a need for frequent pauses to rest. Irregular breathing can occur, mainly during sleep; these changes may cause apprehension. Severe symptoms may begin 4 to 12 hours after arrival at higher altitudes with symptoms of nausea, sluggishness, fatigue, headache, dizziness, insomnia, depression, uncaring attitude, rapid and labored breathing, weakness, and loss of appetite.

b. A headache is the most noticeable symptom and may be severe. Even when a headache is not present, some loss of appetite and a decrease in tolerance for food occurs. Nausea, even without food intake, occurs and leads to less food intake. Vomiting may occur and contribute to dehydration. Despite fatigue, personnel are unable to sleep. The symptoms usually develop and increase to a peak by the second day. They gradually subside over the next several days so that the total course of AMS may extend from five to seven days. In some instances, the headache may become incapacitating and the soldier should be evacuated to a lower elevation.

c. Treatment for AMS includes the following:

• Oral pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin.

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