Altitude Sickness

What is Altitude Sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness)?

  • Altitude sickness occurs when you get to an area of high altitude.
  • It is caused when your body tries to adjust to the lower levels of oxygen at higher altitudes.
  • About 25 out of 100 people who live at sea level will get altitude sickness when visiting places between 2000 and 3000 meters above sea level. Above 3300 meters (10,000 feet), about 50 out of 100 people can get altitude sickness.
  • The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to allow your body time to get used to the new heights (elevations). This is called acclimatization. Your body can acclimatize by staying 2 – 4 days at a middle height altitude (2500 – 3000 meters). Then you can slowly go to higher levels (elevations). You should not use alcohol or sleeping pills. It is better to return to a lower altitude to sleep (climb high – sleep low).
  • At altitudes above 3660 meters (about 12,000 feet) more serious forms of altitude sickness such as getting water-clogged lungs (high altitude pulmonary edema) and swelling of the brain (high altitude cerebral edema) can occur. These are medical emergencies. You must go to a lower altitude right away and quickly.


How do you treat Acute Mountain Sickness?

  1. Stop climbing
  • With rest and some time at the same altitude, you can usually adjust to the altitude in 12 hours to 4 days.
  1. Descend – going down is the treatment of choice.
  • Descend (go down) right away, if rest and some time at the same altitude do not make you feel better or if you are getting worse.
  • Going down to an altitude of at least 500 m lower than where you started to notice the altitude sickness usually stops the symptoms.
  • Drink lots of fluids (to make up for breathing heavily, sweating, and the hard work of climbing).
  • Be sure to eat enough even though you do not feel like eating. (Eat foods low in proteins, fats, salts).
  • Take painkillers for headaches.
  • You may need oxygen.
  1. Drugs to treat Altitude Sickness
  • Diamox® (Acetazolamide) can speed up the adjustment to altitude and can shorten how long you will have altitude sickness.
  • Side effects of Diamox include: numbness in your hands and feet, passing a lot of urine, feeling sick to your stomach, feeling sleepy, impotence, and a hard time seeing far away. Pop (carbonated beverages) including beer can taste funny.


What are the signs of Acute Mountain Sickness?

The most common sign is a throbbing headache. Other signs include:

  • feeling tired
  • feeling dizzy
  • not feeling like eating
  • feeling sick to your stomach
  • throwing up
  • having trouble breathing
  • changes in your mood
  • not being able to sleep