Last modified on Oct 17, 2013

Welcome to high altitude! Brian Head is well known for both its great skiing and its high elevation. At 10,000 feet above sea level, Duck Creek Village is at --- and Panguitch Lake is----- About 25% of the visitors will experience some type of physical discomfort from exposure to high altitude. The body’s response to a rapid ascent to high elevation produces an illness known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). The symptoms of AMS can range from mild discomfort (headache, nausea, vomiting, and other flu-like complaints) to a series of complex and life threatening illnesses.

At elevations over 10,000 feet above sea level there is a noticeable decrease in the amount of available oxygen.  At sea level the atmospheric pressure is about 760 milliliters of mercury (mm Hg). The ratio of oxygen to other gases in the atmosphere is the same at sea level and 10,000 feet (roughly 21%), but at high altitude there is a decrease in the volume of air which means there is simply less oxygen to breathe.

The best treatment for AMS is acclimatization to high altitude. This adaptive process usually takes about two to three days. If you live at lower elevations, you can lessen the effects of altitude illness by making a slower ascent to higher elevations, and increasing your activity level gradually. Taking it easy on your first day will help lessen the demands placed on your body by the lack of oxygen, and may also decrease the amount of time it takes to acclimate to the higher altitude.

Eat light and drink plenty of liquids. A diet that is high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and light in fats can provide the energy that you need to enjoy the Southern Utah Mountains and help prevent the nausea often associated with AMS. The dry air at high elevation can cause your body to become dehydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink 8 oz. of fluid every hour. Alcoholic drinks and caffeine will actually increase fluid loss, so watch your intake of these while staying at a high altitude.

Listen to your body; it takes time to adjust to high altitudes. Breathe deeply; this will bring more oxygen into your lungs. And help you adjust. Be sure to take plenty of rest breaks to prevent fatigue. If you feel “out of breathe” and it does not go away with rest, or is accompanied by a cough, chest pain, or fever, seek medical attention promptly.  One way to prevent a potentially serious respiratory problem associated with high altitude is to sleep at lower elevations. If you have had problems with AMS, you may want to enjoy mountain recreation during the day and spend nights in Cedar City or St. George to avoid complications of AMS.
Headaches are common at higher elevations. They can range from mild to severe. Most headaches can be relieved by the use of aspirin or other non prescription drugs. If a headache intensifies; or if signs of confusion,Irritability decreased mental alertness, or excessive drowsiness occurs seek medical help immediately.
Medical treatment of altitude illness consists of administering oxygen, which helps the body increase its blood-oxygen levels. In sever cases of altitude illness; descending to a lower elevation may be necessary. Diamox is a prescription drug has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of altitude illness. This drug is usually prescribed for people who have had previous episodes of AMS. To be most effective Diamox is best taken 1 to 2 days before exposure to high altitude.

Acute Mountain Sickness is self-limiting condition with symptoms that usually disappear after 2-3 days of exposure. Unfortunately, people who have experienced AMS can expect to experience them again next time in high elevations. If you have any questions about AMS or any other medical issues, please contact your Physician or go to Valley View Medical Center in Cedar City.

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