Altitude Sickness

Altitude Sickness - Symptoms, Cure and Prevention

Hundreds of people die or have to be rescued every year due to High Altitude Sickness. And It costs lots of Money during the process.

With the rise in adventure sports among youngsters all around the world, the trend of traveling up in high altitudes is growing. And anyone can travel or trek as long as you’re better prepared.

But Taking High Altitudes lightly can take a life as well.

And Altitude Sickness won’t spare even if you’re the most fittest person in the world, if you don’t follow the Mountain Rules.

So, here we’ve prepared a detail resource on Altitude Sickness, It’s Symptoms, Cure and Prevention.


What is Altitude Sickness?

When you hike up the mountain, you may feel yourself getting nauseous or lightheaded, that’s Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness.

This condition happens if you walk or climb to a higher elevation, or altitude, too quickly.

It doesn’t happen only to hikers. Just visiting a high-altitude location can cause problems for some. Symptoms happen when your body tries to adjust to the lower air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes.

Who is at Risk for Altitude Sickness?

Anyone can get altitude sickness. Your age, sex and general health don’t seem to affect your risk.

You may be at higher risk if you:

Have a lung or heart condition: Your healthcare provider may recommend avoiding high altitudes if possible.
Are pregnant: Talk to you provider before traveling to a high-altitude location.
Live at low elevation: Since your body isn’t used to higher altitudes, you have a greater risk for symptoms. If you’re planning a trip to a high-altitude location, be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness and how to treat it.
Previously had altitude sickness: Talk to your provider about prevention and treatment before your next trip.

What is considered a “High Altitude” in terms of Getting Altitude Sickness?

Climbing to following elevations can bring on symptoms of altitude sickness:

High altitude: 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level.
Very high altitude: 12,000 to 18,000 feet.
Extremely high altitude: 18,000+ feet.

What Causes Altitude Sickness?

Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is caused by a rapid change in Air Pressure and Air Oxygen Level at Higher Elevations.

The pressure of the air that surrounds you is called barometric or atmospheric pressure. When you go to higher altitudes, this pressure drops and there is less oxygen available.

If you live in a place that’s located at a moderately high altitude, you get used to the air pressure. But if you travel to a place at a higher altitude than you’re used to, your body will need time to adjust to the change in pressure.

Any time you go above 8,000 feet, you can be at risk for altitude sickness.

In addition, high altitude and lower air pressure can lead to fluid leaking from blood vessels. Researchers don’t understand exactly why this happens. This leakage causes fluid to build up in your lungs and brain. Ignoring moderate or severe symptoms can lead to a life-threatening situation.
What are the Symptoms of Altitude Sickness?

The preliminary symptoms of Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountains Sickness (AMS) are feeling nauseous and lightheaded. You may also vomit and have a headache.

And different levels of altitude sickness have different symptoms:
Symptoms of mild, short-term Altitude Sickness

It usually begins 12 to 24 hours after arriving high altitude.

They lessen in a day or two as your body adjusts (acclimatization or rest day is important).

The symptoms include

Fatigue and Loss of Energy
Shortness of Breath
Loss of Appetite
Sleep Problems

Symptoms of Moderate Altitude Sickness

They are more intense and worsen instead of improve over time:

Worsening Fatigue, Weakness and Shortness of Breath
Coordination problems and difficulty walking
Severe Headache, Nausea and Vomiting
Chest Tightness and Congestion
Difficulty doing regular activities, though you may still be able to walk independently

Symptoms of Severe Altitude Sickness

It is a state of Emergency.

The symptoms are similar to Moderate Altitude Sickness, but more severe and intense.

If you start experiencing these symptoms, you should be taken immediately to lower altitude for medical care.

Symptoms include:

Shortness of Breath, even when resting
Inability to Walk
Fluid Buildup in the Lungs or Brain

HAPE – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

It is a buildup of fluid in the lungs that can be very dangerous and even life-threatening.

This is the most common cause of death from altitude sickness.

Symptoms Include:

Cyanosis, when your skin, nails or whites of your eyes start to turn blue
Confusion and irrational behavior
Shortness of breath even when resting
Tightness in the chest
Extreme fatigue and weakness
Feeling like you’re suffocating at night
Persistent Cough, bringing up white, watery fluid

HACE – High Altitude Cerebral Edema

It is the most severe form of Altitude Sickness and happens when there is fluid in the Brain.

It, too, is life-threatening, and you need to seek medical attention right away.

Symptoms Include:

Loss of Coordination
Disorientation, Memory Loss, Hallucinations
Psychotic Behavior

How is Altitude Sickness Diagnosed?

Within 24 to 48 hours of Moving to High Altitude, if you get headache or at least one other symptom, then it’s most likely Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).

If you’re climbing, a more experienced climber may recognize symptoms of altitude sickness and guide you to get help.

If you have severe Altitude Sickness, a Healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities and location.

They may also perform a physical exam including listening to your Chest.
Will You Need Tests to Diagnose Altitude Sickness?

You may need a Chest X-Ray to see if there is any fluid in your chest.

In severe cases, your healthcare provider may order a brain MRI or CT-Scan to check for the fluid in your brain.

How is Altitude Sickness Treated?

The main treatment of Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is to move to a lower altitude as quickly and safely as possible.

At the very least, do not go higher.

If symptoms are mild, staying at your current elevation for a few days might be enough to improve the symptoms.

Other treatments depend on how severe your symptoms are.

Mild Altitude Sickness

Over-The-Counter medicines can relieve headaches. Other Symptoms will improve once your body adjusts (acclimatizes) or you move to lower altitude.

Moderate Altitude Sickness

Symptoms should improve within 24 hours, once you are 1,000 to 2,000 feet lower than you were. Within three days, you should feel completely better.
Severe Altitude Sickness, HAPE and HACE

If you have severe symptoms, you must be taken immediately to an elevation that’s no higher than 4,000 feet.

Get to a healthcare provider as soon as possible. You may need hospitalization.
What Treatments are Available for Severe Altitude Sickness?

Treatments depend on your symptoms
For Fluid in the Brain (HACE)

You may need dexamethasone, a steroid that helps reduce swelling in the brain.

Dexamethasone is sometimes prescribed as a preventive medication.
For Fluid in the Lungs (HAPE)

You may need oxygen, medication, a lung inhaler or, in severe cases, a respirator.
If You Need More Oxygen

A provider might prescribe acetazolamide, which increases your breathing rate, so you take in more oxygen. The medicine helps your body adjust faster to the higher elevation and reduces symptoms of altitude sickness.

How can you prevent Altitude Sickness?

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to go slow — called acclimatization.

This process allows your body time to adjust to the change in oxygen levels. Take your time when traveling up. For instance, spend a day at a point midway up before continuing to ascend.

Going slowly helps your lungs get more air through deeper breaths and allows more of your red blood cells to carry oxygen to different parts of your body.

Some basic guidelines for Acclimatization are

Start your journey below 10,000 feet. While flying or driving somewhere that’s higher up, stop at one destination that’s lower for at least a full day before going any higher.
If you do fly or drive somewhere and can’t spend time at lower elevations on the way, the drug acetazolamide can help speed up acclimatization.
If you walk, hike, or climb over 10,000 feet, only go up an additional 1,000 feet per day. For every 3,000 feet you climb, rest at least a day at that height.
“Climb high and Sleep low”: If you’re to spend the night at 3,000 meter, go additional 100-200 meter for a hike and spend around half an hour. So your body acclimatizes at 3,100-3,200 meter.
Drink 3-4 liters of water every day, and make sure about 70% of your calories are coming from carbs.
Don’t use tobacco, alcohol, or medications such as sleeping pills, especially for the first 48 hours. Caffeine is OK if you normally drink it.
Don’t vigorously exercise for the first 48 hours.
Know how to identify the first signs of altitude sickness. Move to a lower elevation right away if you start to have these symptoms.

Thanks for reading till the end. Hope it’s helpful to you.

When you travel High in the Mountains, Bring Back the Good Memories for Life.

Some of the High Altitude Trekking Routes are

Everest Base Camp Trek
Annapurna Circuit Trek
Manaslu Circuit Trek

Best Wishes!

Altitude Sickness - Symptoms, Cure and Prevention