Avoiding the High of Altitude Sickness

high altitude sickness
Updated on May 05, 2024

Altitude sickness, often termed Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is caused by low oxygen levels at higher altitudes. Minor symptoms of AMS start to appear at 1500m; however, this is only commonly noticed in most people after 2500m. Even people living in the mountains sometimes suffer from altitude sickness when they gain sudden elevation, so there is no total immunity. However, this does not mean the condition is unavoidable.

Altitude sickness manifests as headache, nausea, and dizziness, often combined with a loss of appetite, face swelling, fatigue, nose bleeding, and other symptoms. This can lead to a loss of senses and an inability to think and comprehend, which requires immediate attention.

The process of acclimatization varies from person to person. Below, we list some of the most common regimes that regular high-altitude travelers follow:

Standard Rules to Follow on High Altitude Trips

  • Follow the rule of gaining altitude strictly: 300 – 400 meters per day above 3000m. To acclimatize correctly, you can also take a day and climb about 1000m higher, then return to spend the night at a slightly higher altitude than the previous day.
  • After reaching your preferred elevation, it is advisable to have some light forms of exercise rather than sleep during the day. Overexertion is also not good for the body, so don’t set very high goals. Let the body adjust to low oxygen settings before a heavy workout.
  • Take lots of fluids. Drink plenty of water (3-4 liters per day), hot garlic soups, tea, and the like to keep hydrated. Dehydration due to water loss while breathing leads to altitude sickness, which is not noticeable.
  • Keep warm. This may sound simple; however, it is easier said than done with sub-zero temperatures and strong wind—pack the proper mountain clothing.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, coffee, and other intakes that dehydrate the body. Alcohol and sleeping pills act as respiratory depressants. It is good to observe the body’s natural adaptation to the environment and act accordingly rather than get any narcotics.
  • Use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat to avoid the sun. This reduces the risk of headaches and keeps you safe from extreme mountain conditions.
  • Eat well and consume a lot of carbohydrates. At high altitudes, the body demands a lot of energy to keep warm and work.
  • In case of symptoms of AMS, it is best to go to a lower altitude and wait till everything gets normal again. Descend slowly. Also, a person with AMS should never be left alone as they cannot think or act appropriately.
  • (Note: Medicines such as Diamox can speed acclimatization. However, side effects such as tingling fingertips and blurred vision may occur. Get suggestions from your physician or an experienced guide if you intend to use such medicines.)
  • Click here to read some more AMS Safety Tips.
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