Altitude Sickness

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

Know the basics

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is a health condition occurring with people who are in a high altitude such as climbers, hikers or travelers.  Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the most common condition of altitude sickness.

How common is altitude sickness?

According to statistics, half of us, both men and women, can be altitude sickness, especially if at a height of 2.400m upwards. Altitude sickness is more common in people with lung problems and in people who often live in areas with very low height so unfamiliar with air condition and pressure in areas with high positions..

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?

Symptoms of altitude sickness can be a headache, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, fatigue. These symptoms usually last from 6-48 hours after the climb.

In some rare cases, altitude sickness can cause fluid to accumulate in the brain and lungs (pulmonary edema and cerebral edema), causing more severe symptoms such as:

  • Hearing sound like the sound of paper being pitcher when breathing;
  • Shortness of breath severe;
  • Coughing up pink liquid, bubbling;
  • Clumsiness and difficulty walking;
  • Confusion and may lead to loss of consciousness;

These symptoms indicate the status of the patients are very critical and need medical attention immediately.

There may be other symptoms not mentioned. If you have any questions about these signs, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Altitude sickness goes away when you get used to the altitude or when you move back down to a lower place. However, if these symptoms appear severe pulmonary edema and cerebral edema, the patient needs immediate emergency.

Know the causes

What causes altitude sickness?

At high altitudes, oxygen levels and air pressure will be lower. Meanwhile, the body has to adjust the heart rate and breathing faster to maintain the needed oxygen to the body. If you climb too fast in a short time, your body will not adapt promptly leading to altitude sickness.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for altitude sickness?

Factors that may cause you to increase the risk of altitude sickness include:

  • Age: young people are easily affected by altitude sickness.
  • Habitat: if you live in low-lying areas perennial as plain or near the ocean and never go to the mountains.
  • Your health resistance is not good.
  • You used to be suffered from lung diseases.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice. ALWAYS consult your doctor.

How is altitude sickness diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose altitude sickness based on a history scroll to your high places and clinical examination of symptoms. In particular, the doctor may use a stethoscope to detect the sounds like a crack in the lungs. That may be a sign of lung fluid spills.

Your doctor may also ask some other tests like:

  • Blood tests;
  • Brain CT;
  • Chest X-rays.

How is altitude sickness treated?

The treatment depends on the altitude and the severity of the condition. Usually the first, the patient should be taken to lower elevations quickly and safely to start oxygen therapy as early as possible. Later, symptoms usually disappear after 1-3 days of rest. Additionally, paracetamol or aspirin can also treat mild symptoms. Drugs like cetazolamide and nifedipine are indicated for more severe symptoms.

If patients appear cerebral edema caused by altitude, you should immediately take them to a high altitude and low oxygen therapy, then the dexamethasone (a steroid), to help prevent the nerve damage avoid serious and deaths.

Lifestyle Changes & Home Remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies help manage altitude sickness?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with altitude sickness:

  • You should not go to high altitudes directly, it may take 2-4 days for the body to adapt.
  • Prior to places with high altitude, you should see your doctor for instructions on what drugs should be used to prevent altitude sickness. You should take acetazolamide before the climb and continue to use while aloft. However, when taking this medicine you may experience side effects such as nausea, numb lips, numb fingers and toes.
  • Well rested.
  • Drink plenty of water and increase the amount of carbohydrates in the body to minimize the effects of altitude sickness disease.
  • When you are at high altitude, move as quickly as possible to place lower if you incurred neurological symptoms or breathing.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: August 15, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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