High Altitude Sickness Info
What is altitude sickness, the treatments and the symptoms?
Acute mountain sickness is an illness that can affect anyone going into high altitudes, usually above 2,400 meters (8,000 feet).
Other names include: High altitude cerebral edema; Altitude anoxia; Altitude sickness; Mountain sickness; High altitude pulmonary edema.
Reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes cause acute mountain sickness. The faster you climb to a high altitude, the more likely you will get acute mountain sickness as you body has no time to adapt or acclimatize.
You are at higher risk of suffering acute mountain sickness symptoms if you do not live at altitude (i.e. you live at or near sea level and travel to a high altitude) and you have had symptoms before.
Your symptoms will depend on the speed of your assent (how many vertical metres you ascend daily) and how hard you push (exert) yourself. Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening. They can affect the nervous system, lungs, muscles, and heart.
In most cases, symptoms are mild. Symptoms of mild to moderate acute mountain sickness may include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid pulse (heart rate)
- Shortness of breath with exertion
Symptoms that may occur with more severe acute mountain sickness include:
- Blue color to the skin
- Chest tightness or congestion
- Coughing up blood
- Decreased consciousness or withdrawal from social interaction
- Gray or pale complexion
- Cannot walk in a straight line, or walk at all
- Shortness of breathe at rest
Early diagnosis is important. Acute mountain sickness is easier to treat in the early stages.
The main treatment for all forms of mountain sickness is to descend to a lower altitude as rapidly and safely as possible. You should not continue ascending if you develop symptoms.
Extra oxygen should be given, if available.
Most cases are mild. Symptoms improve quickly when you climb down the mountain to a lower altitude. Severe cases are potentially fatal, which is why early treatment and response is important.
Listen to your body and don’t dismiss those niggling signs and symptoms as you simply being unfit or just ‘out of breathe’. Be patient with the mountain and respect the power of her grandeur, otherwise a painful lesson can result.
Learn about how to prevent mountain sickness symptoms arising, read Our top 5 tips to managing altitude.