Everything You Need To Know About Altitude Sickness & Diamox (Part 2)
Diamox And Altitude Sickness
Diamox was originally created to treat glaucoma, epilepsy, periodic paralysis, hypertension and heart failure, but is also known to reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. A common question I get asked is; is Diamox a steroid? The answer is no it is not. It is actually a diuretic (“water pill”). One of the effects of Diamox is that is causes you to lose a lot of water by peeing… a lot! This is why as you read below, I stress the importance of drinking even more water if you start taking Diamox.
How Do You Take Diamox?
If you are persistently suffering from one or more of the symptoms of AMS then take 125mg of Diamox every 12 hours, and continue to take it for three days after you have returned to a lower altitude.
If you do start taking Diamox, you must, must drink more. As I said above, one of the side effects of Diamox is that it causes you to pee more frequently, which means that if you are not drinking enough, you will very quickly become dehydrated.
You can start a course of Diamox before you get to altitude, but in my experience Diamox is best used as a treatment for altitude sickness rather than a preventative measure. Your body knows what to do at altitude, it knows how to acclimatize and you must give it the chance to do so. If you start taking Diamox before you get to altitude, you will not be able to truly assess whether your body is acclimatizing properly or not. I have made this mistake before which is why I now always suggest using Diamox as a treatment rather than a preventative measure.
Let your body do the work and acclimatize and simply use Diamox to aid that acclimatization process if you need it.
Diamox is not a miracle altitude pill that you can take and magically not feel any symptoms of altitude sickness. Just like altitude, everyone reacts differently to Diamox. For some people it works wonders and they swear by it while, for others, Diamox does nothing.
Can Altitude Sickness Kill You?
The simply answer to this is, yes, if you ignore the symptoms and continually climb to higher altitudes, then yes. But, something I always say to my clients as I coach them is this…
Altitude Sickness does not sneak up and surprise you; you will know when you have one or more of the symptoms
The chance of altitude sickness killing you arises when you ignore those symptoms because they can escalate into one or both of the more severe and life threatening altitude illnesses – HAPE and HACE.
These two altitude illnesses are much less common than AMS, but they are life-threatening illnesses that everyone who sets foot on the mountains of the World should know about and be aware of for their own safety and the safety of those around them.
HAPE - High Altitude Pulmonary Edema
This occurs when there is a build-up of fluid in the lungs. Symptoms include a feeling of suffocation, tightness in the chest, severe shortness of breath even when you are resting, weakness and a persistent cough that brings up white, frothy and watery fluid. You may become confused and irrational because there is insufficient oxygen reaching your brain. Immediate descent is an essential life-saving measure. Nifedipin is used in the treatment of HAPE but always in combination with immediate descent.
HACE - High Altitude Cerebral Edema
HACE occurs as a result of swelling in the brain from fluid leakage. Symptoms include severe headache, weakness, loss of coordination, disorientation, loss of memory, hallucinations, irrational behaviour and a decreasing level of consciousness.
How Do You Test For HACE?
By doing the “Finger-Nose Test”. With closed eyes and alternating arms, repeatedly and quickly reach your index finger out as if you were pointing to something and then touch your nose. Change arms and repeat, doing it as quickly as possible.
Like HAPE, immediate descent is an essential life-saving measure. Dexamethasone is used in the treatment of HAPE but always in combination with immediate descent.