Keep Your Tips Up!
With ski season rapidly approaching, many of us have plans to head up into the mountains. Whether that’s for some crisp turns in some fresh snow or just a taste of a winter wonderland, the lack of oxygen in higher elevation areas is a problem many visitors face.
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is caused by a lack of oxygen in the atmosphere. Those that suffer from this sickness at higher elevations experience headaches, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. Symptoms similar to a hangover– for those familiar with that other minor medical condition. Coming from sea level, the symptoms can set in at elevations as low as 5,000 feet.
Don’t Get Too High
Now 5,000 feet is a pretty lofty start, but many resorts across the Mountain West are actually much higher. One popular example is Aspen in Colorful Colorado, sitting at a staggering 8,000 feet! And since oxygen is lost at an exponential rate with increase in elevation, visitors often experience a drastic increase in AMS symptoms.
At sea level the air you breathe is about 21% oxygen. In fact, much of what you breathe in is nitrogen! 78% to be exact. The rest is made up of other gases like argon, carbon dioxide, and methane to name a few. Now what is even more interesting is how the concentration of these gasses changes with altitude. To save you the snooze, we’ll just focus on the oxygen.
The oxygen in the air, or O2, is what we need to survive. We can make it off much less than you’d think, but who wants to think about that!? The oxygen in the atmosphere is what is known as effective oxygen. This chart from Higher Peak does a great job of showing how much effective oxygen is at each elevation.
So What Can You Do?
As with anything, prevention goes miles further than treatment. And it’s best not to put your faith in any over-the-counter treatments. The body’s ability to adapt to new environments is incredible. By taking it easy when you first arrive at a higher elevation, your body is able to adapt and naturally fight the onset of AMS. Physical exertion only makes the symptoms worse and if you or a companion find yourselves suffering from AMS, descending in elevation is the most effective treatment of all.
It is best to take proper precautions, as Acute Mountain Sickness can turn into a much more serious condition if symptoms get worse.