Altitude sickness

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Altitude sickness—also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude illness, hypobaropathy, or soroche—is a pathological effect of high altitude on humans, caused by acute exposure to low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude. It commonly occurs above 2,400 metres (8,000 feet). [1] [2] It presents as a collection of nonspecific symptoms, acquired at high altitude or in low air pressure, resembling a case of "flu, carbon monoxide poisoning, or a hangover".[3] It is hard to determine who will be affected by altitude-sickness, as there are no specific factors that compare with this susceptibility to altitude sickness. However, most people can climb up to 2,400 meters (8,000 ft) normally.

Acute mountain sickness can progress to high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), which are potentially fatal.[2][4]

Chronic mountain sickness, also known as Monge's disease, is a different condition that only occurs after very prolonged exposure to high altitude.[5]



The causes of altitude sickness are not fully understood.[2][6] The percentage of oxygen in air, at 21%, remains almost unchanged up to 70,000 feet (21,000 m).[7] The RMS velocities of diatomic nitrogen and oxygen are very similar and thus no change occurs in the ratio of oxygen to nitrogen. However, it is the air pressure itself, the number of molecules (of both oxygen and nitrogen) per given volume, which drops as altitude increases. Consequently, the available amount of oxygen to sustain mental and physical alertness decreases above 10,000 feet (3,000 m).[8] Although the cabin altitude in modern passenger aircraft is kept to 8,000 feet (2,400 m) or lower, some passengers on long-haul flights may experience some symptoms of altitude sickness.[9]

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