Physiology – DiMM

Last weekend I got the chance to tag along on the first day of the Canadian Society of Mountain Medicine, Diploma in Mountain Medicine Course in Whistler BC.

The course is put on by a group of physicians, medics, SAR techs, and UIAA guides to train personnel in mountain medicine techniques. A majority of the students were physicians, many ER and ski patrol docs.

I attended talks by several speakers on high-altitude illness and came away with a surprising amount of good information. With a more real-life focus and less emphasis on pure research, the talks had lots of practical ideas for treating altitude illness. A few notes that I took and found interesting are below (no sources):

  • Hillary and Tenzing are a perfect example of the difference in the definition of acclimatization and adaptation respectively. Acclimatization occurs on a short time scale, over days and weeks. Adaptation occurs not even over a lifetime but over generations.
    • Altitude sickness is failure of acclimatization
  • The UIAA website has medical statements on all sorts of situations that may affect climbers, including altitude illness.
  • The biggest issue for a contact lens wearer at altitude is hygiene (not corneal edema). Newer lenses with better oxygen and moisture permeability are best.
  • Those with refractive eye surgery may experience transient blurring due to drying and corneal edema. Artificial tears and goggles might help. Scalpel RK is the worst, laser PRK is better, lasik is best.
  • UV radiation increases 4% with every 300m elevation gain (this does not include reflection from snow).
  • All symptoms are considered altitude illness unless proven otherwise when you are up there. Treatment is always a combination of drugs and descent.

I wish I could have attended more of the course but with the semester beginning I had to be back in Vancouver. Hopefully I will be able to join in for a bit more of the winter module.

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