altitude sickness

Management of altitude sickness

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Altitude sickness is an illness caused by reduced amount of oxygen at above sea level altitudes that usually ranges about 4,800 ft. Generally, it causes mild headache and a dangerous accumulation of fluids in the lungs or brain. When traveling to higher altitudes such as areas around the mountains, many changes can be experienced such as low humidity, increased UV radiation, cold, reduced air pressure and lessened oxygen saturation.

Causes of altitude sickness

  • Ascending too fast which does not give enough time for the body to compensate for reduced oxygen in the air.
  • Overexertion within 24 hours of ascent
  • Hypothermia
  • Inadequate intake of fluid
  • Drinking alcohol or other sedatives


  • At first, throbbing headaches and fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe fatigue
  • Respiratory fatigue
  • Cerebral edema
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Lastly, dizziness


  • Take plenty of rest for at least 2-3 days. Generally, avoid taking sleeping pills while suffering from altitude sickness to prevent worsening of the condition.
  • Spend the first day at high altitudes by relaxing. Avoid performing moderate exercises until totally acclimatized to the new heights.
  • Use bottled oxygen or portable hyperbaric chambers. Generally, avoid using bottled oxygen when descending to a lower altitude.
  • Take over-the-counter anti-emetic to lessen symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Take ibuprofen or paracetamol to lessen the headaches.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcoholic beverages to prevent the risk of dehydration.
  • Drink at least 3-4 quarts of water to keep the body properly hydrated. The urine should be clear.
  • Avoid ascending further until symptoms are totally reduced.


  • The body should adjust to high altitudes to prevent altitude sickness.
  • Avoid physical exertion during the first 24 hours.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Take the prescribed medication such as acetazolamide.
  • Eat appropriately by eating a high carbohydrate diet to improve the symptoms of altitude illness. Generally, foods rich in carbohydrates include breads, pasta, fruits, and potato-based meals. Eat these foods before and after acclimation periods. Acclimation is the gradual change in the environment such as change in altitude, temperature and humidity.

Disclaimer / More Information

The material posted on this page on altitude sickness is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage environmental emergencies including altitude sickness by taking a first aid and CPR class with one of our training providers.


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