Altitude sickness – Symptoms and Treatment

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Climbing mountain or skiing can be very thrilling. But if you are not used to living in high altitudes, you can have health issues. Altitude sickness is also known as mountain sickness. When you climb up, the air pressure and the oxygen level changes. This creates the health problem.

Altitude sickness can be of three types: Acute Mountain Sickness, High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE). Acute Mountain Sickness can occur suddenly to people who climb a height of 8,000 feet or more. As the person climbs higher, the risk of altitude sickness also becomes more. The altitude sickness height varies from one person to another. In case of HAPE, fluid builds up in the lungs and can become life-threatening. When HACE occurs, fluid builds up in the brain.


The symptoms of altitude sickness become prevalent with 8 to 96 hours after a person has climbed 8,000 feet or more. Basic symptoms of altitude sickness include nausea, headache, fatigue, vomiting, sleep problems, shortness of breath, etc. For moderate altitude sickness, the symptoms are a loss of coordination, severe headache, tightening of the chest, more shortness of breath, etc. In case of severe altitude sickness, you may be unable to walk, have confusion or you may even go into a coma.


The initial form of altitude sickness can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. For moderate altitude sickness, the over-the-counter medicine won’t work. You will have to take prescribed medicine. The doctor will take an X-ray of your chest to find out your condition. A CT-scan or MRI might be needed to confirm that there is no fluid in the brain or lungs. In case of HACE, steroid might be needed. If you have HAPE, you will have to take supplemental oxygen. People suffering from moderate to severe altitude sickness must be immediately taken to lower altitudes.

Altitude sickness is more likely to affect the young people. When you climb a mountain, climb gradually so that your body gets adjusted to the pressure and oxygen level. You should drink lots of fluid and stop whenever you feel bad. Altitude sickness occurs to 50% of the people who usually live in low altitude region. When you go skiing or mountain climbing, you should make sure that you don’t rush to get up. It increases the risk of altitude sickness. If your condition gets severe and over-the-counter medicine doesn’t improve your condition, you should seek immediate medical attention.

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