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Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is caused by travelling to a new altitude too quickly; breathing may become difficult due to the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. It typically occurs when travelling 2,500m above sea level and is common in mountain climbers. For this reason, it is also called acute mountain sickness, or AMS.

Medications can be taken to treat altitude sickness and are available to order from Pharmacy Online.

The Types Of Altitude Sickness

There are two kinds of altitude sickness; chronic and acute.

Chronic mountain sickness often occurs when people live at high altitudes for a long time. For example, a study published by NCBI proved that countries with residents that live at a higher altitude have more cases of the condition than those living at sea level.

Acute mountain sickness is different because it can develop quickly (usually between 1 to 5 days). If someone ascends to over 8000 feet, they could be more susceptible to the condition.

The Causes Of Chronic and Acute Mountain Sickness

While chronic mountain sickness develops over time and is often a result of living in a high altitude location, acute mountain sickness can affect anyone, usually resulting from rapid ascension.

If you stay at great heights, you can also get sick because you won't have access to as much oxygen. While oxygen levels remain stable at high altitudes, the air pressure is significantly lower, making your body work harder to use the available oxygen.

As this continues to happen, you might notice that you feel sick, and if your electrolytes are impacted, you'll feel dehydrated, and in the most severe cases, fluid might build up in your brain and lungs.

Common Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness affects people in different ways. It ultimately depends on numerous factors, including the rate you ascend to a particular altitude, the amount of time you spend at that height, your weight and your respiratory capacity.

However, the common symptoms of altitude sickness include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pins and Needles
  • Swelling of the hands and feet


While these symptoms are common and more generalised, some people might notice they develop severe side effects if the altitude sickness results in fluid in their lungs or swelling in the brain.

Signs Of Fluid In Lungs:

  • Feeling out of breath and panting
  • Temperature
  • Constant cough with symptoms of blood in the sputum


Symptoms Of Swelling In The Brain:

  • Feeling dizzy and disorientated
  • Constant headache that doesn't go away with pain medication
  • Being more clumsy or unsteady on your feet
  • Fainting or blacking out
  • Prolonged vomiting


You could develop a high altitude pulmonary oedema or a high altitude cerebral oedema in severe cases.

How Is Altitude Sickness Diagnosed?

If a person shows signs that they're developing altitude sickness, a doctor will look at their symptoms before diagnosing. In most cases, you'll have a diagnosis if you display all or some of the signs and recently ascended to a very high altitude.

When you notice the symptoms, you should immediately stop climbing and slowly make your way down to a lower altitude.

Altitude Sickness Treatment Options

There are many things to consider when treating altitude sickness, including whether the symptoms are mild or severe. If you're suffering from mild altitude sickness, you can continue your ascent but must slow down and take your time.

When you're ascending, think about how you're feeling. If the symptoms worsen, descend immediately to eliminate the risk factors of life-threatening side effects, such as swelling of the brain and fluid in the lungs.

Here are some tips to relieve the symptoms:

Pure Oxygen Treatment

One of the most popular forms of mountain medicine is pure oxygen, and many resorts have it as a treatment option for people suffering from the effects of high elevation.

If your mountain resort has a resident health care professional, you'll probably receive treatment at the resort.

Gamow Bags

Another popular option to relieve symptoms of altitude sickness is using Gamow bags. They're inflatable and simulate a descent, so when a person is placed in one, it gives them temporary relief from altitude sickness.

If a person is at a high altitude and it will be a few hours before they can seek medical treatment, these bags could be potentially lifesaving.

Medications To Treat and Prevent Altitude Sickness

While you can use the above steps to minimise the effects of altitude sickness, it's still important to consider medications. Some medicines can help you to recover from the symptoms, while others work to prevent it so that you can reach a higher elevation.


You want to make sure you don't overload your body with substances in terms of painkillers. However, both paracetamol and Tylenol can reduce the pain you might feel from a mild headache - but painkillers won't alleviate severe symptoms.


If you're looking for an effective altitude sickness medical treatment, one of the go-to options is acetazolamide. This medicine works to prevent high altitude sickness, but it can also relieve the symptoms of acute high altitude sickness.

While it comes with some side effects, the medication is highly beneficial, and one of the go-to treatments medical professionals prescribe to climbers that develop a high altitude illness.


Dexamethasone works by reducing inflammation and preventing altitude sickness. However, this medicine is a steroid that can create many side effects, including depression, stomach pain and euphoria.


If you develop altitude sickness that turns into a more severe condition, nifedipine can help. It's primarily used to treat fluid in the lungs by loosening your chest to make your breathing rate improve.

Nifedipine is only used for severe altitude sickness, but it can be a very effective medication.

Other Ways You Can Prevent Acute Altitude Sickness

While it's common to get some mild symptoms, you'll reduce the risks of extreme altitude sickness if you slow down and take your time. However, if you do develop a headache or feel sick after your climb - you should avoid the following things:

  • Doing exercise and other activities
  • Drinking caffeine and alcohol
  • Smoking


Most importantly, take your time to recover from the altitude sickness symptoms because you want to recover without damaging your lungs and brain.

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