How to Recognize and Treat Altitude Sickness

3 min read

climber with altitude sickness

High-altitude travel is the kind of adventure that promises spectacular views and healthy highs.  For many of us, these are the trips that nurture our spirit, invigorate our minds, and energize our bodies.

But high-altitude travel comes with risks, including altitude sickness. There are three different kinds of altitude sickness, which range in severity — from headaches and nausea to severe fluid buildup that may cause death.

The fear that we might get altitude sickness may be frustrating, even scary. Nobody wants their dream trip ruined by poor health. Proper preparation for your trip is the best way to reduce the chances of getting sick.

...even the most athletic person could fall victim to altitude sickness, which is why it’s understandable that you may feel uncertain or nervous about the risks associated with high altitude travel.

That said, even the most athletic person could fall victim to altitude sickness, which is why it’s understandable that you may feel uncertain or nervous about the risks associated with high altitude travel. The key is to learn more about the condition.

This brief guide will better equip you to identify the symptoms and give you the tools to know what to do if you or your travel partners start showing symptoms of the illness.

What Is Altitude Sickness?

When the body can’t adjust to changes in altitude, altitude sickness can occur, resulting in headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and difficulty sleeping. It can also lead to more serious complications, including high-altitude pulmonary edema and cerebral (brain) edema, which can be life-threatening.

Altitude sickness usually starts to manifest itself when we move to locations 8,000 feet above sea level (although some people experience symptoms starting around 5,000 feet). At this height, depleted oxygen levels in the air can start to affect bodily functions.

In general, altitude sickness starts with headaches, dizziness or nausea.

To mitigate these symptoms:
  • Get acclimated, and don’t move to higher elevation for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
  • Rest as needed.
  • Take Ibuprofen to help alleviate headaches.
  • Nutrient supplements designed for high-altitude travel may also help your body adjust.

If symptoms do not subside, then move down 1,700 feet to acclimate the body. If you still feel ill, then medical attention is required.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

While most high-altitude travel will not cause severe altitude sickness, it’s important to know how to deal with the most extreme cases. HAPE is a complication of AMS that occurs when there is a buildup of fluid in your lungs. Symptoms include cyanosis (blue-tinged skin), tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, coughing up pink or white froth and weakness. These symptoms require immediate attention in the emergency room.

Treatment of HAPE includes:

  • Rapidly descent to a lower altitude
  • Administration of oxygen as soon as possible
  • Seeking immediate medical attention as this is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Nifedipine, supplemental oxygen, or hyperbaric treatment by a physician

High Altitude Cerebral Edema

HACE is another complication of AMS. Symptoms include disorientation, weakness, confusion and vomiting. These occur as a result of  brain swelling.

Disorientation and confusion are especially concerning because a person who suffers from these symptoms may not realize that they are sick. That’s why it’s essential to travel alongside a trusted partner and/or an expert guide.

To treat high altitude cerebral edema (HACE):
  • Use bottled oxygen, if available.
  • Travel to a lower-altitude location immediately.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.
  • A physician may administer dexamethasone, which is a steroid to reduce brain swelling, if needed.

An Ounce of Prevention

One way to avoid succumbing to the effects of high-altitude sickness is to take an AMS supplement even before you begin your journey. Taken 24 hours in advance, Altitude RX boosts oxygen intake and prevents nausea and headaches. As a bonus, it also reduces jet lag, so you arrive at your destination feeling refreshed and ready for the climb. Altitude RX is the natural way to acclimate your body in advance.

Successful high-altitude travel requires that you prepare your body for the trip and familiarize yourself with the signs of altitude sickness ahead of time. These are the best ways to make sure that you’re clear-headed and focused if the condition manifests itself during your journey.

Safe travel is the key to fun travel. Be realistic about the risks of high-altitude travel, prepare your body in advance and be ready to deal with the illness should it occur.

Prevent the debilitating symptoms of altitude sickness.

Conquer new heights and breathe easy with Altitude RX!

Learn how the ingredients in Altitude RX help prevent altitude sickness