Altitude Sickness : Climbing a mountain? Need to avoid


If you ascend fast to a high altitude, you might have altitude sickness. You can not breathe as easily because you can not take in as much oxygen.

If neglected, acute mountain sickness (AMS), commonly known as altitude sickness, can develop into a medical emergency.

Your probability of experiencing altitude sickness is unaffected by your age, sex, or level of physical fitness. Additionally, just because you might not have had it previously does not guarantee that you will not have it on a subsequent trip.

Causes Of Altitude Sickness

At significant heights, there is a sudden shift in air pressure and oxygen levels, which causes altitude sickness. If you go to a high elevation without allowing your body time to acclimate to reduced oxygen, you can have symptoms. Even if you are in good physical shape, altitude sickness can still strike.

High altitude and low air pressure can also cause blood vessels to leak liquids. Researchers are unsure about the precise cause of this. Your lungs and brain get flooded with fluid as a result of this leaking. Ignoring moderate or severe symptoms might result in a scenario that is life-threatening.

How to check if you have Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness, often known as mountain sickness, may have affected you if you've ever trekked up a mountain and felt dizzy or queasy. When you ascend to a high height (elevation) too soon, this syndrome develops.

Not just hikers experience it, though. A high-altitude setting alone might be problematic for certain people. When your body tries to adapt to the lower air pressure and less oxygen present at high altitudes, symptoms develop.

Risk Factors Of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness may strike anybody. You are not at greater risk due to the following factors: age, sex, or overall health. 

You could be more vulnerable if you:

  • Have a previous medical condition involving the lungs or heart: As a result, your doctor could recommend avoiding heights. 
  • Pregnant: Before going to a high-altitude region, consult your doctor.
  • Living at a low height puts you at a higher risk for symptoms since your body isn't accustomed to being at higher elevations. Try to understand what signs your body shows in terms of altitude sickness with some research and what steps you can take to minimize the risks in a high-altitude area.
  • If you have ever had altitude sickness, see your doctor about treatment and prevention before your next trip.


After ascending to heights greater than 2,500 meters above sea level, symptoms of altitude sickness often appear 6 to 24 hours later.

Please look out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Headache, nausa, and other symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Breathing difficulty

The symptoms typically get worse at night.

Mountain climbers are not the only ones who get altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can also affect tourists visiting cities that are 2,500 meters or higher above sea level, such as La Paz in Bolivia or Bogotá in Colombia.

Altitude Sickness Prevention

A key factor in preventing altitude sickness is to use a steady speed when climbing heights around the 2,500m mark. Your body typically needs a few days to adjust to a shift in altitude.

These are good actions to take:

  • Avoid flying directly to high-altitude regions; if at all possible, spend two to three days getting acclimated to the altitude before climbing above 2,500 meters.
  • Avoid climbing more than 300 to 500 meters per day; take breaks every 600 to 900 meters (or every three to four days)
  • Make sure you're drinking enough water and refrain from smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Eat a light yet high-calorie meal for the first 24 hours and refrain from excessive activity.

As a precaution it is recommended to take these medications with you:

  • High-altitude sickness can be prevented and treated with acetazolamide.
  • Ibuprofen and paracetamol for headaches 
  • Promethazine or other anti-sickness medications for nausea


The following treatments are recommended for Altitude Sickness:

  • For headaches, please use painkillers such as paracetamol.
  • If you feel unwell, take an anti-sickness medication, such as promethazine; and do not go any higher for at least 24 to 48 hours.
  • Don't smoke, consume alcohol, or exercise, and make sure you're getting enough water.
  •  Acetazolamide can help lessen your symptoms 
  • Even if your symptoms are minor, express how you are feeling to your traveling companions because there is a chance your judgment may be clouded.

Once you feel like you have fully healed, you may start climbing again with caution.

After a day, if you still don't feel better, descend at least 500 metres (about 1,600 feet).

Try to avoid climbing until your symptoms have finished and you are feeling better. Your body should have acclimated to the altitude within two to three days, at which point your symptoms should go away.

Please consult a doctor if your symptoms significantly worse. 

Complications of Altitude Sickness

If altitude sickness symptoms are ignored, they may develop into potentially fatal conditions that affect the brain or lungs.

High altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE)

High altitude cerebral oedema (HACE) is an oxygen deficiency-related swelling of the brain.

HACE symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Experiencing sickness and losing coordination
  • Confusion 
  • Dizziness 
  • Presenting delusional accounts.

High altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE)

A buildup of fluid in the lungs is known as high-altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE).

HAPE symptoms include:

  • The blue colouration of the lips or skin (cyanosis)
  • Breathing issues, especially while at rest
  • Chest tightness 
  • A persistent cough that brings up pink or white foamy liquid (sputum)
  • Fatigue and fragility

Altitude sickness occasionally poses a life-threatening concern. You run the danger of experiencing problems like a coma or perhaps passing away if you have HAPE or HACE. 

Get help as soon as you can to lower your risk.


For further information please access the following resources:

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Page last reviewed: Mar 2, 2023

Next review due: Mar 2, 2025

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