In a collapse situation, we might find ourselves having to move from a home at sea level to a retreat or “bug-out” location in the mountains. When this becomes necessary, it’s likely that you will be moving fast.
The rapid change in elevation will, for some, cause a condition known as Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This occurs as a result of entering an area with lower oxygen availability without first acclimating oneself. Although Altitude Sickness is usually a temporary condition, some patients may develop accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema) which can be life-threatening. Altitude Sickness occurs most commonly at elevations approaching 8,000 feet above sea level, and is aggravated by exerting oneself.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
You will usually see patients present to you with symptoms similar to a hangover or influenza. If mild, there will commonly be:
Nausea and Vomiting
Lack of appetite
Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
Parethesia (pins and needles sensation)
Shortness of breath
Those who will have major complications of Altitude Sickness will present with the following:
Cough and Congestion (chest, not nasal)
Cyanosis (blue/gray appearance of the skin, especially fingertips and lips)
Hemoptysis (coughing up blood from the lungs)
Loss of consciousness
Loss of coordination
Severe shortness of breath
Worsening GI symptoms (nausea and vomiting/diarrhea)
Like many illness, the best strategy against Altitude Sickness is prevention. Choose your route to your retreat so that the ascent is as gradual as possible. Do not attempt more than 2,000 feet of ascent per day. Ensure that your personnel do not over-exert themselves as they ascend, and provide lots of fresh water. Avoid the consumption of alcohol.
Treating Altitude Sickness first requires rest, if only to stop further ascent and allow more time to acclimate. If available, a portable oxygen tank will be useful upon onset of symptoms. A medication commonly used for both prevention and treatment is acetazolamide (Diamox). Its diuretic properties prevent the accumulation of fluid in the lungs or brain. This drug is superior to many other diuretics in that it also forces the kidneys to excrete bicarbonate. By increasing the amount of bicarbonate excreted, it makes the blood more acidic. Acidifying the blood stimulates ventilation, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood. Usual dosages are 125 to 1,000 mg/day, usually starting a couple of days before the planned ascent. Other medicines known to have a beneficial effect include the blood pressure medication Nifedipine and the steroid Decadron, especially in those with edema in the lungs and brain.
When you visit your physician, notify him that you are planning a trip into high elevations and would like to avoid Altitude Sickness. Usually, you will be given an Acetazolamide prescription. The other medications will be more difficult to obtain, however.