If you are
hiking or camping, you and those with you need to know the symptoms of altitude
sickness. People often mistake altitude sickness for the flu, a hangover, not
getting enough fluids, or feeling tired. As a rule, consider your symptoms to
be altitude sickness unless you can prove they are not.
How is it treated?
The best treatment for
altitude sickness is to go to a lower altitude. But if you have mild symptoms,
you may be able to stay at that altitude and let your body get used to it.
Symptoms often occur if you have just arrived at a mountain resort from a lower
You may also be able to use oxygen or a specially
designed pressure chamber to treat altitude sickness.
If you stay
at a high altitude, rest. You can explore the area, but take it easy. Limit any
walking or activity. Drink plenty of water, but do not drink alcohol. Do not go
to a higher altitude until your symptoms go away. This may take from 12 hours
to 3 or 4 days.
For the headache,
you can take an over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol),
ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Do not give aspirin to anyone
younger than 20. Aspirin has been linked to
Reye syndrome, a serious illness. You may also use
medicine to reduce feeling sick to your stomach or other symptoms.
can give you acetazolamide (Diamox). This speeds up how fast your body gets
used to the higher altitude. Nifedipine (Procardia) and dexamethasone are
also used for altitude sickness. You may also be able to use oxygen or a
specially designed pressure chamber to treat altitude sickness.
Go to a lower altitude if your symptoms are moderate to severe, they get
worse, or medicine or oxygen treatment does not help. Go down at least
1500 ft (457 m). Go to a lower
altitude as fast as you can or get emergency help if someone with you has
severe symptoms such as being confused or not being able to walk straight. Go
with the person. Never let someone with severe altitude sickness go down
Can you prevent altitude sickness?
You may be able
to prevent altitude sickness by taking your time when you go to high altitudes,
using medicine in advance, and eating certain foods.
- If you go to altitudes higher than
8000 ft (2438 m), try to spend
a night at a medium altitude before going higher. For example, in the United
States, spend a night in Denver before going to the Rocky Mountains.
- Do not fly into high-altitude cities. If this is not
possible, avoid large meals, alcohol, and being very active after you arrive.
Rest, and drink plenty of liquids. If you have symptoms, do not go higher until
they have gone away. Examples of high-altitude cities include Cuzco, Peru; La
Paz, Bolivia; and Lhasa, Tibet.
- Sleep at an altitude that is
lower than the altitude you were at during the day. For example, if you ski at
9500 ft (2896 m) during the
day, sleep the night before and the night after at
8000 ft (2438 m). "Climb high,
sleep low" is standard practice for those who spend time at high
- You may consider taking acetazolamide (Diamox) or possibly dexamethasone before going
to a high altitude.2 Talk to your doctor about this.
- Eat a lot of
carbohydrate. This includes breads, cereals, grains, and pasta.
What if you have a lung problem or other disease?
Experts do not know much about how altitude affects other diseases. Many
allergic asthma do better at high altitudes. Still, if
you have asthma and are going to high altitudes, continue to use your usual
medicine and take your reliever medicine with you. Talk with your doctor about
altitude sickness if you have long-term diseases, especially heart problems,
sickle cell anemia,
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or