Course Material
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The occurrence of altitude related illnesses in Antarctica is low. Most participants in the USAP have no problem acclimatizing. Following the recommendations offered in this training greatly increases your chances of avoiding an altitude related illness and helping your body adjust to the high altitude environment.

Pre-Deployment Checklist
Before Departure to a Field Camp
Arrival at Altitude

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Pre-Deployment Checklist
  • Inform your medical provider you will be working at high altitude.
  • Discuss concerns with your medical provider regarding any pre-existing medical illnesses and how they may be affected by altitude.
  • Inform your medical provider if you have experienced altitude related problems in the past.
  • Ask your medical provider about the option of taking acetazolamide (Diamox) to acclimatize to altitude.
  • Contact your science Principal Investigator (PI) or your Antarctic Support Contract (ASC) manager with any concerns about your assignment regarding altitude.
  • Bring your own supply of your regular medications. The medical facilities on the Ice do not have the inventory to supply individuals for an entire season.
  • Use the references at the end of this training to further research high altitude environments and physiology.
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Before Departure to a Field Camp
  • Hydrate now. Increase your water intake to at least 4 to 5 quarts a day. Drink slowly and space it out over time (drinking a lot at one time does not work).
  • Get quality sleep while here in the “thick” air, and relax at the end of the day.
  • Decrease caffeine and avoid alcohol two days prior to departure.
  • Consider taking acetazolamide (Diamox).

    The Medical Department can provide you with Diamox. No appointment is necessary; however, go during clinic hours.

    Take one dose (125 to 250 mg) the night before departure and continue to take one tablet twice a day for four days.

  • Mentally prepare yourself. Understand that the first two days after arrival at camp you will relax and not work.
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Arrival at Altitude
  • Breathe. This occurs naturally, of course, but remember to take advantage of every breath you take.
  • Rest. Read a book, play cards. Think about what you need to do after the first few days, but no heavy exertion.
  • Exercise lightly. It is better to get up once in a while, stretch and move around rather than just lay in bed. Shoveling snow is not light exercise.
  • If you’re on acetazolamide (Diamox), continue to take it twice a day for the first few days. The medical provider at your camp evaluates your progress after that time period.
  • Decrease caffeine and avoid alcohol during the acclimatization period. Alcohol impedes ventilatory acclimatization.
  • If you have an increasing headache or any worsening symptoms, see the medical provider immediately. The quicker you are assessed and treated, the less likely you will develop High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).
  • Talk to the medical provider before taking any medication. Narcotics and sleep medications should not be taken while acclimatizing as they are respiratory depressants and may kick you into Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
 
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Curator: Brigitta James, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Paul Sheppard, Division of Polar Programs