Acute Mountain Sickness | Great Days Outdoors

While preparing for your hunt in the mountains, don’t forget to prepare your body as well. 

Perhaps nothing is more exciting than jumping in a rig and heading off to a great Rocky Mountain adventure.  This summer, I had the opposite experience in heading down from the Rockies to the Gulf Coast.  My travel down was spent in the comfort of air conditioning for virtually the entire journey down.  Once my wife and I arrived, we were greeted with some stout humidity that both of us were not accustomed to.  I felt rather ill and struggled to breathe the humid air for the first three days after my arrival.  The mornings in the humid climate would find me somewhat nauseated.  I was able to quickly rule out pregnancy as the culprit as I understand that doesn’t happen in the male gender.  My wife, as usual, found it rather humorous.  I certainly gained a valuable appreciation for what our clients go through when they first arrive in Montana for their hunts, Acute Mountain Sickness.  Changing venues is also changing climates and acclimation is imperative for the traveler.

” Even world-class athletes can suffer altitude sickness and it is compounded by those physically exerting themselves.”

Those fortunate enough to be hunting in the Rocky Mountains from a lower elevation should be aware of Acute Mountain Sickness better know as Altitude Sickness.  This malady typical occurs above 8000 feet and affects different people in different ways independent of what kind of physical condition they are in.  Mild forms of altitude sickness can be experienced at lower elevations.  The barometric pressure drops as the elevation increases, thinning the air and reducing available oxygen.  Even world-class athletes can suffer altitude sickness and it is compounded by those physically exerting themselves.  Since most mountain hunters will be engaged in various degrees of physical exertion, it is important to recognize the early symptoms.

Pro Tip for Acute Mountain sickness: When hunting in higher elevation, try staying at a lower elevation you are hunting, but higher than what you normally stay in.




 

Symptoms 

“Systems usually set in about 12 hours after exposure to elevation and acclimation can be anywhere from twelve hours to three days. “

A headache is probably the most common sign you may experience in the early symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness.  Loss of appetite, stomach nausea, insomnia, dizziness, and a loss of energy or weakness are also common signs.  Systems usually set in about 12 hours after exposure to elevation and acclimation can be anywhere from twelve hours to three days.  Normally, a few days of light duty will acclimate the body and the systems go away.  However, in some small cases, mild altitude sickness can advance into HAPE or HACE.  HAPE is excess fluid in the lungs, and HACE is excess fluid in the brain.  If systems increase and develop into Ataxia (not being able to walk a straight line), confusion, blue or grey lips, or crumpled sound when breathing, it is time to get to a lower elevation immediately.  These conditions can be fatal and every year they take the lives of people who could have prevented it.  Oxygen shots may help but it is critical to the victim of the mountain and get into a lower elevation.




Prevention

In order to help prevent Acute Mountain Sickness, there are some prescription medicines out there.  Most people just simply acclimate.  A healthy dose of Ibuprofen, plenty of water, and a high carb diet before and during trips into mountains will help prevent intense symptoms.  Hunting high and sleeping low at night is also greatly beneficial.  The best remedy is acclimation.  It is a great idea to spend a night or two at lower elevations than where you will be hunting, but higher then what you live in.  I know when clients come in, myself and the guides always try to take it easy the first day or two while hunting.  Seventy-two hours make it or break it as most clients get their lungs and legs by the third day and feel a lot better.  I have heard many times on day three from our hunters it “isn’t too bad”, or it’s “getting easier.”  So in your forays into the Rocky Mountain be advised changing environments means your body has to acclimate.  Being able to recognize the symptoms and knowing appropriate action may save a life.  As always, be safe out there!

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