15 Ways to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Altitude sickness

I have read several articles written about Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). As an organiser with Adventures Unlimited (AU), I have conducted numerous high altitude treks to Nepal and India. This post originally appeared in 健行筆記, resonates with me as an adventurer as well as organizer.

I have translated this article from its original form written in Chinese for the hope that it will widen hiker’s education and knowledge on the subject. You can read the original article here

The following article is about a unique user experience. The following does not represent the position of “Hiking Notes.”

A certain knowledge and understanding, coupled with experience, can help reduce or prevent the discomfort of mountain sickness. This can come from personal experience, courses taken to recognize the symptoms, and other educational opportunities.

I must bring my own medicine for altitude sickness just in case it happens whenever I climb a mountain. If you are a novice climber going on a high-altitude trek, I would recommend that you personally register at a medical department, hospital, or local tourism department. It is necessary to report your desire to go to a high-altitude locality, ask a physician to order medicine, and provide clear instructions in case AMS occurs.

Treating AMS With Medication

#1. Acetazolamide is a diuretic, so it was used to treat glaucoma. It has also been found to help with mountain sickness. A doctor without any climbing experience may not agree that this medicine can provide relief of the symptoms, so the wrong message is sent. An incorrect dosage might be recommended and that can cause a potential overdose if taken on the mountain.

If you ask about AMS medicines, you may receive a recommendation to take a different prescription. It is up to you if you wish to pay the added cost.

#2. Purchasing directly from a pharmacy where only drug names are handwritten onto drug bags creates a potentially dangerous situation. It is impossible to trace the source of the medication in this circumstance. Unless you can identify drugs and are certain of its purity, it is not recommended to purchase open medicines at the pharmacy.

#3. Don’t purchase drugs from others. They are not allowed to be distributed privately and you could be breaking the law.

#4. If there are no medical personnel, then medication cannot be provided. In an emergency, you may wish to consider taking the AMS medication that a teammate may have if symptoms are occurring.

#5. Acetazolamide is a sulfa drug, so be aware of any allergic reactions you may have. An allergy to medication can develop at any time, even if you’ve never experienced a reaction in the past. Always follow the warnings and pay attention to the side effects that are listed for the medication. Never take a medicine for altitude sickness for the first time on a mountain. You’re a long way from help and some allergic reactions can be life-threatening.

Mountaineering is about taking personal responsibility for your actions while still caring for your teammates. Avoiding trouble whenever possible must be a priority. You must prepare basic medications before climbing the mountain and seek medical advice from a professional provider. Then, should you become distressed, you can save yourself with the prescriptions you have taken with you.

Be aware of the symptoms of AMS, especially if you’ve never experienced them before. Many of the early signs are often ignored by beginners. Do not take this issue lightly. It becomes difficult to treat the symptoms once they become serious.


It Is Also Possible to Treat AMS with Basic Prevention Techniques 

Medical treatments can help with mountain sickness when the symptoms begin to make themselves known. In addition to taking medication on your own, you can reduce the chances of AMS occurring by implementing basic prevention techniques.

#1. Get enough sleep. Fatigue can easily lead to mountain sickness, so get enough sleep the night before. It is a good idea to get a full night of rest for 2-3 days before your journey to ensure the body has enough rest, especially since climbing a mountain can be strenuous.

#2. Do not climb if you have physical discomforts. If you have a cold, an illness, reduced immunities, or physical discomforts, then you have an increased risk of experiencing mountain sickness. Wait until you recover before climbing.

#3. Adapt to the altitude. Rapid changes in altitude can also increase the risk of mountain sickness. A good hiking plan should allow climbers the time necessary to adapt to the new height. That is why many climbing treks involve “sleeping low, climbing high.” The shelter is at a lower altitude than the trek itself. Training at altitudes above 3,000m at least 30 days before a planning climbing trek can also help you adapt to altitude.

#4. Remember to breathe. When climbing, do not try to walk vigorously. Walk slowly and take deep breaths. Allow your body to adapt. If your heart begins to race or you develop a headache while resting, then deep breathing can provide some relief.

#5. Keep yourself warm. Cold weather can increase the risks of mountain sickness. Put on a coat when resting, even if you feel warm, because less physical activity will cause body temperatures to lower. Change into dry clothes. Wear a fur cap while sleeping and never take the hat off when on the mountain since most of the heat from your body will escape through your head.

#6. Consume hot drinks and dense caloric foods. High-calorie foods and hot drinks will give you energy, warm the body, and reduce the risks of developing mountain sickness. Hot ginger tea, hot black syrup, and hot cocoa are all good options. Make sure to drink plenty of water and remember to eat in small amounts and have many meals instead of a few large ones.

#7. Keep proper ventilation. If you are in a crowded tent, do not keep it tightly closed. Oxygen levels dip at night and this will cause a poorly ventilated tent to create poor sleep conditions. Breathe deeply several times with abdominal breathing if you develop a headache as this can slow the symptoms. If you cannot sleep, still close your eyes and rest to the best of your ability.

#8. Use tapping techniques to release pressure. Pressure can build in your head as you gain in altitude and this can lead to discomfort. If the pressure is not released, it can increase the risks of mountain sickness. Use tapping techniques to relieve this pressure.

#9. Take preventative medication. If you do experience the symptoms of AMS, be sure to take prescription medication according to the instructions provided by the doctor and/or pharmacist.

#10. Do not take other medications. Medication interactions can make you feel worse instead of better. Do not bring sleeping pills to take with AMS medicine. You may wish to avoid drinking certain juices as well, since some can change how the medicine works in the body.

#11. Alcohol should not be taken on a mountain trek. Alcohol interacts with medications and should not be taken on a high-altitude trek. It may also enhance the symptoms of mountain sickness.

#12. Do not take a bath in the mountains. Bathing opens the pores of the skin, making a person more susceptible to the cold. Use wet tissues with hot water to wipe the body when necessary.

#13. Pay attention to physical changes. Do not attempt to hide any symptoms you may be experiencing. Share discomforts with your team. Encourage teammates to do the same. This helps everyone make sure the whole team can stay safe and enjoy the high-altitude trek.

#14. Make sure beginners know what to do. For teammates on their first mountain trip or mountain overnight excursion, make sure the leader of the trip knows that they are a beginner so that any issues can be observed and treated immediately. Beginners may not understand that something may be wrong.

#15. Treat it early. Early detection of mountain sickness makes it possible to avoid deterioration.

In addition, the author composed the diagnostic criteria after finishing the course by Dr. Wang Shihao on mountain sickness (15 symptoms). According to the doctor’s suggestions the symptoms were listed in the table, and altitude sickness drugs are put together in the top package, or put to a place for convenient usage. When you have a symptom, and then take them out one by one to review. <You are welcome to download and use the file>.


Diagnostic Codes of Mountain Sicknesses

  • When someone is feeling unwell, ask the patient for indication of all the 14 symptoms.
  • Once the diagnostic codes matched, withdraw the patients from the mountain, whether or not the patient has lost consciousness.



The Golden Rules for Mountain Sickness:

  1. When any conditions occur in high altitude area, presume its mountain sickness first.
  2. Never bring anyone with mountain sickness to higher altitude, or enter a situation detrimental to rescue or withdrawal.
  3. When condition is deteriorating, lower altitude immediately, get out of the situation detrimental to rescue or withdrawal at the first moment.
  4. Never leave alone patients with mountain sickness.

If the prevention methods and medicines were unable to improve the symptoms, you should not forget the fundamental principle of handling altitude sickness: go down, go down, and go down.

One’s own safety is also the team’s safety, it is required to have one’s own knowledge before going uphill, and only then one will be able to have a safe and enjoyable trip to the mountain.


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