Understanding AMS

What is acute mountain sickness?

A quick increase in larger altitude can sometimes develop acute mountain sickness. It typically occurs when one climbs quickly to about 8,000 feet, or 2,400 meters, above sea level. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath are a few symptoms of this condition.

NOTE: Information on AMS presented below is strictly as per my understanding and the experience I have gathered from my various trips in high altitude region and yes, – internet.

Consultation with your doctor to understand this better is strictly advised

Higher altitudes have lower levels of oxygen and decreased air pressure. When one rather quickly climbs to high altitudes, the body does not have enough time to acclimatize. This results in acute mountain sickness. The level of exertion also plays a role. The only way to prevent AMS is to gradually climb to high altitudes with least bit of exertion


The symptoms of acute mountain sickness generally appear within hours of moving to higher altitudes. They vary depending on the severity of your condition.

If you have a mild case, you may experience:

  • dizziness and headache
  • muscle aches
  • insomnia
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of appetite
  • rapid heartbeat
  • shortness of breath with physical exertion

Symptoms of severe altitude sickness may include:

  • coughing
  • chest congestion
  • pale complexion and skin discoloration
  • inability to walk or lack of balance
  • social withdrawal
Who is at risk?

The risk of experiencing ams is greater if one lives near the sea and is unaccustomed to higher altitudes. Few other Factors that can lead to AMS are:

  • quick movement to high altitudes
  • physical exertion while traveling to a higher altitude
  • traveling to extreme heights
  • alcohol consumption
  • dehydration

I strictly advice folks on medications to not travel to places as Spiti Valley or Ladakh. Asthma patients should avoid a vacation in these areas. Talking to your doctor on finding ways to avoid AMS is a good idea too


Some common medications for altitude sickness include:

  • acetazolamide, to correct breathing problems
  • dimox, lung inhalers
  • dexamethasone, to decrease brain swelling

Some basic remedies able to treat milder conditions, include:

  • returning to a lower altitude
  • reducing your activity level
  • resting for at least a day before moving to a higher altitude
  • hydrating with water or electrolyte
  • consuming Garlic cloves or garlic soup
Prevention of AMS

There are few preventive measures one can take to prevent AMS

  • Consulting a doctor for a thorough check up prior to the planned trip
  • Stay on medication few days before the trip until you have completed the journey of all the high altitude passes
  • If traveling to extreme altitudes in a short period of time, ask your doctor about acetazolamide or Dimox, a medication that can ease your body’s adjustment to high altitudes.
  • Climb slow and steadily
  • Give it a day or two for your body to acclimatize at various altitudes
  • Do not exert when at high passes .

The bottom line is, one cannot fight nature and neither must he. Most people are able to recover from a mild acute mountain sickness quickly after returning to lower altitudes. However, if the condition is severe and treatment is not provided on time, complications can result in coma or death too . It’s essential to plan ahead when traveling to high-altitude locations.

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