Ask about Advice and Prescriptions about Altitude Illness from our on-call Physician Dr. David J. Gray MD.
Altitude Illness, Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS.
These are general terms to describe how one might feel when visiting Summit County, Grand County or Eagle County, Colorado, where the average is over 9000ft. Visitors to the Central Rockies may feel the effects of the high altitude whether you come here to go skiing in the winter or biking in the summer. Altitude sickness occurs because the body is used to receiving 96% to 99% oxygen in the blood at sea level. When visiting the higher elevations the body receives less oxygen and therefore you may feel ill.
Symptoms of AMS include:
- Headaches or migraines.
- Nausea, fatigue,
- Loss of appetite.
- Shortness of breath.
- Trouble sleeping.
If the symptoms progress; left untreated it can result in
- HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema).
- HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). Both will result in a trip to the emergency room.
Why does it occur?
Altitude illness or Acute Mountain Sickness results because your body is picking up less oxygen. Each red blood cell can carry four parts of oxygen. When all the red blood cells pick up four parts of oxygen the body is receiving 100% oxygenation. At higher elevation the air is “thinner”, that means there is less oxygen per cubic foot as compared to sea level. Contrary to what many people believe, the air contains the same percentage of oxygen, 21%. In fact, there is less oxygen per cubic foot, resulting in “thinner” air.
In addition to the body picking up less oxygen symptoms of altitude illness are caused by the change in atmospheric pressure. Lower atmospheric pressure causes “thinner” air. The easiest way to explain this is using an example of a bag of potato chips. Many of you that have driven to the mountains may have had a bag of chips in the car that exploded. As you rise in elevation the atmospheric pressure decreases causing the air to expand. A bag of chips sealed at lower elevation starts to expand when brought up to the high altitude resulting in a bag of chips that is about to pop. The body takes time to adjust to the change in pressure, therefore as you climb in elevation the blood vessels in your body are also expanding this reduces the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. The membranes that transfer oxygen from the lungs to the blood are compressed making it more difficult for the body to transfer oxygen to the cells.
Treatment with oxygen.
Oxygen is used to treat AMS and Altitude Illness. Using just a small amount of oxygen will do wonders for the body. A treatment level of 2 liters per minute (LPM) is common for most Adults and 1-2 (LPM) is good for most children. Using oxygen when you first arrive will prevent any symptoms from occurring. If you already have symptoms such as headache, nausea or fatigue most will go away in a short period of time. Headaches have been known to go away in less than 15 minutes. Many people will sleep with oxygen which allows the body to adjust to the high altitude while you sleep. Additionally when sleeping with oxygen it is as if you are sleeping at sea level, resulting in a more restful night sleep. The best equipment for sleeping with oxygen is the oxygen concentrator. The oxygen concentrator produces its own oxygen and never runs out.
We deliver and pick-up at locations in and around the following towns in the Central Colorado Rockies! Leadville, Alma, Vail, Winter Park, Granby, Frisco, Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Dillon, Grand Lake, Georgetown and Kremmling. Please call or e-mail to request our services!