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June 23, 1975

Effects of High Altitude on the Eyes

JAMA. 1975;232(12):1271. doi:10.1001/jama.1975.03250120059026

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The current issue of Archives of Ophthalmology publishes a trio of articles that deal with the effects of high altitude on the ocular system and brain. All three reports emphasize the prevalence of high-altitude retinal hemorrhages that disappear after return to low altitudes.

Rennie and Morissey (93:395-400, 1975) had the opportunity to study the American expedition to Dhaulagiri (8,167 meters [26,795 ft]), a mountain in the Central Himalayas, the sixth highest mountain in the world and the highest ever climbed without the use of supplemental oxygen.

The expedition included 15 experienced American climbers, all of whom were physically fit, and five Nepali Sherpas. Retinal photographs had been taken at sea level before the start of the climb and were repeated at high altitude after the climbers had undertaken quite strenuous exertion. All of the American climbers manifested ocular changes including vascular engorgement and tortuosity, plus retinal hemorrhages in five instances.