How to treat altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is a kind of disorder which mainly happens due to climbing at the high altitude areas, as the oxygen levels is quite low in these areas. This kind of sickness occurs in those cases where the individual reaches to a height of more than 8,000 feet, even many ski resorts are constructed at an altitude of 8,000 ft which sometimes result in causing altitude sickness among the people.

Some of the facts about altitude sickness

  • While climbing at the higher altitude regions, the number of oxygen molecules per breath decreases.
  • Rising to a high altitude without acclimatizing sometimes result in causing fluid to build up in the lungs and brain.
  • Some of the most common symptoms of altitude sickness are weakness, sleepiness, and lack of appetite.
  • The main causes of altitude sickness include climbing to a great height too quickly or staying at the place which is located at a height for longer period of time.

Altitude sickness means many symptoms that occur when we are exposed to a higher elevation within a short period of time. Altitude sickness is quite common among the people who travel or climb or being transported to a higher elevation within a shorter period of time. The higher you climb, the lower will be the air pressure and oxygen levels. Though our bodies manage the shift, still they need time to slowly adjust with the changes. Some of the common things which you can do to get least affected by the altitude sickness include.

Slowly climb

Your need to go slowly for almost three to four days so that you can adjust according to the changes. You must avoid flying or driving directly to those areas that are located at high altitudes. Rather try to go up higher each day and take some time to rest properly and then continue climbing the next day. In case you need to fly or drive, then you need to pick that area which is located at a lower altitude and stay there for at least a day before continuing again. While you are traveling by foot, you need to plan accordingly and take some break at the lower elevations before reaching to the final destination. You must not travel more than 1,000 feet in a single day and rather move ahead or go higher the next following days.

Take more carbs

It’s not frequently that you are being asked to eat additional carbohydrates. But yes when you are going to the areas located on a higher altitude, you need to take more calories. So while moving towards the higher altitude areas, pack lots of snacks which include whole grains as well so that you remain energetic for the rest of the day.

Don’t consume alcohol

Cigarettes, alcohol and some kind of medicines like sleeping pills must be avoided in case you are going to the high altitude areas as it will make the symptoms worse. Avoid you must avoid smoking, drinking, or taking sleeping pills at the time you are moving to a higher altitude place and in case you want to have a drink, you are suggested to wait for a minimum 48 hours so that your body can take enough time to adjust before taking the alcohol.

Drink water

By staying hydrated you can treat this kind of sickness which is much important in preventing altitude sickness. You must drink enough water regularly at the time you are climbing. Also prefer comfortable climbing rather than getting engaged in aggressive exercises that drain out your energy and you feel low in energy at the time of climbing.

Sleep lower

In case you are witnessing altitude sickness then there are higher chances that it might get bad at night at the time you are sleeping. It is suggested that the people who have altitude sickness do climbing in the morning and then return to the areas that are located at lower altitude, especially in case they are planning to climb more than 1,000 – 1,200 feet in a single day.


In most of the cases, it is advised not to give any kind of medication to the people ahead of time they are flying or driving to the areas that are located on high altitude areas. There are some cases that which support that people who take acetazolamide few days before starting their trip and during their trip feel some relief in their altitude sickness. Acetazolamide is a kind of medicine typically given to cure glaucoma but because of the way it works, it is also helpful in preventing the altitude sickness. But these medicines can be taken only in case they have being advised by the doctors. It is important that people must know that they can still get altitude sickness even if they are taking acetazolamide. In case you have started witnessing the symptoms, then the medicines will not be of much use and going to a lower altitude area again is the only best and effective treatment which you can have to treat altitude sickness.

What are the causes of altitude sickness?

The symptoms of altitude sickness can differ from person to person and sometimes it results in medical emergency as well. While starting moving to a higher altitude, people are advised to know about these symptoms so that it can help them in catching altitude sickness before it becomes troubling for them.

Some of the mild symptoms of altitude sickness include

  • headache
  • throwing up
  • feeling of tiredness
  • shortness of breath
  • heart rate increasing fast
  • not feeling well
  • trouble while sleeping
  • loss of appetite

In case you are developing some mild altitude sickness, then you must discontinue the climbing to any of the higher areas and return to a lower elevation level at the earliest. The symptoms will automatically go on their own in case you start coming back to lower altitude areas and once they are gone completely, you can start the trip again post the couple of days they start feeling relaxed.

Some of the symptoms are mentioned below:

  • feeling shortness of breath, even at the time you are resting
  • coughing that is not stopping
  • tightness in the chest
  • congestion in the chest
  • trouble while walking
  • seeing double
  • confused mind
  • the color of your skin will change to gray, blue, or paler than normal

In case you are witnessing these symptoms, then it means that your altitude sickness is more advanced and you need to look for the ways to treat it in case you are notice any of these symptoms then reach to the lower altitude areas at the earliest and get the much needed medical attention. There are many severe altitude sicknesses which can result in causing fluid in the lungs and brain and can become more dangerous in case left untreated.

Complications related to altitude sickness

Most of the symptoms generally occur in case you have climbed at over 12,000 ft and an acute mountain sickness can result in developing high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema among the individuals. The two main altitude sickness complications include high altitude edemas of the lungs and brain.

High altitude cerebral edema (HACE):

It is case where the lack of oxygen results in causing fluid to leak through tiny blood vessels into the brain, this kind of situation results in causing swelling. This kind of case mostly occurs in case a person is staying at a high altitude for a minimum one week. In case it is left untreated, it could increase the chances of death as well, so it is advised that the affected person must immediately come to a lower altitude place.

HACE can be a life-threatening case and in most of the cases it happen happens in a hostile environment where there is a shortage of diagnostic tools

High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE):

In this kind of case, the fluid will builds up inside the lungs, disallowing oxygen from getting into the bloodstream. As HAPE grows and blood oxygen levels drop, people with altitude sickness start witnessing many kinds of symptoms including:

  • difficulty in breathing
  • a tight chest
  • a persistent cough with pinkish sputum
  • exhaustion and weakness
  • confusion and disorientation

Also, if it is left uncured, the complications will increase greatly and similarly to HACE, the affected people are advised to move down by least 2,000 ft immediately. Though both of these conditions are uncommon still it can occur in case a person ascends to a very high altitude and stays there for a longer period of time.


Though its hard to predict the exact cause your body might have at high altitudes as everyone has different health conditions. The best defense against altitude sickness is to stop climbing too high or too fast in a day and get prepared for the altitude sickness by practicing the tips mentioned above. For all those who have any kind of current medical conditions such as heart problems, difficulty in breathing, or diabetes, then these people are advised to seek their doctor’s help before planning their moving to high altitude areas. In case altitude sickness is left untreated then it might result in causing more complications which becomes difficult to cure.

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