Altitude sickness—also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. Although minor symptoms such as breathlessness may occur at altitudes of 1,500 meters (5,000 ft), AMS commonly occurs above 2,400 meters (8,000 ft). It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of “flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover”.1
It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude sickness, as there are no specific factors that correlate with a susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can ascend to 2,400 meters (8,000 ft) without difficulty. Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), both of which are potentially fatal, and can only be cured by immediate descent to lower altitude or oxygen administration. Chronic mountain sickness is a different condition that only occurs after long term exposure to high altitude.2
One person may experience one or more symptoms when they get altitude sickness. These symptoms include headache, which is usually throbbing and it gets worse during the night and when you wake up. It is common to have a reduced appetite, stomach problems, vomiting, weakness and tiredness. In severe cases, a significant reduction of energy is experienced. In addition, insomnia is also reported with dizziness. Swelling of hands, feet, and face is also common with nose bleeding and shortness of breath.3
Altitude sickness can first occur at 1,500 meters, with the effects becoming severe at extreme altitudes (greater than 5,500 meters). Only brief trips above 6,000 meters are possible and supplementary oxygen is needed to avert sickness. As altitude increases, the available amount of oxygen to sustain mental and physical alertness decreases with the overall air pressure. Dehydration due to the higher rate of water vapor lost from the lungs at higher altitudes may contribute to the symptoms of altitude sickness.4
The rate of ascent, altitude attained, amount of physical activity at high altitude, as well as individual susceptibility, are contributing factors to the onset and severity of high-altitude illness. Altitude sickness usually occurs following a rapid ascent and can usually be prevented by ascending slowly. In most of these cases, the symptoms are temporary and usually abate as altitude acclimatization occurs. However, in extreme cases, altitude sickness can be fatal.
At high altitude, 1,500 to 3,500 meters (4,900 to 11,500 ft), the onset of physiological effects of diminished respiratory oxygen pressure includes decreased exercise performance and increased ventilation (lower arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide). While arterial oxygen transport may be only slightly impaired the arterial oxygen saturation, generally stays above 90%. Altitude sickness is common between 2,400 and 4,000 m because of the large number of people who ascend rapidly to these altitudes.5
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the three patterns are affected qi, blood and body fluids. First, the spleen qi becomes deficient, while the blood is also deficient. The progression of deficient qi will affect other organs as the stomach, heart and lungs become deficient. The spleen’s function of transportation and transformation diminishes and creates accumulations internally, as well as externally contracted wind edema yin or yang, depending upon the pre-existing conditions individually present. If this problem is not counterbalanced, the kidney yang is unable to support the spleen yang. Ultimately, they are unable to support one another. This is severe internal cold, which progresses to yang collapse with liver and heart blood deficiency. In extreme cases, liver blood deficiency progresses to internal wind.
Acupuncture Points used to treat this condition are the following, for spleen qi deficiency: R-4, R-12, ST-28, ST-36 moxa/tonify SJ-6, SP-6, SP-9 (damp accumulation) sedate. Alternate D-4, D-6, BL-20, BL-22, BL-23, BL-29 moxa/tonify; LI-10, SP-6 sedate. LG Qi Deficiency: LG-5, LG-7 tonify. HT Qi Deficiency: HT-7 tonify. SP Yang Deficiency: Add points LI-10, SP-6 sedate. K Yang Deficiency: points K-1, K-2 moxa.6
- What is altitude sickness? – webmd.com – 2017, http://www.webmd.com/lung/tc/altitude-sickness-topic-overview
- Definition of Altitude sickness – medicinenet.com – 2017, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=8584
- Altitude Sickness – my.clevelandclinic.org – 2017, http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic-altitude-sickness
- Altitude Sickness: Causes, Symptoms and Diagnosis – medicalnewstoday – 2016, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/179819.php
- Altitude sickness – wikipedia.org – 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altitude_sickness
- Altitude Sickness: An Integrated Perspective – acupuncturetoday.com – 2003, http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/mpacms/at/article.php?id=28250