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Altitude sickness

So you’ve booked your trip of a lifetime! Could acute altitude (mountain) sickness be a risk? It depends where you are headed. As a rule of thumb, altitude sickness may be experienced by visitors to destinations over 8000ft (>2400m), in response to the reduced oxygen levels. The risk of experiencing altitude sickness is highest for travellers who ascend to high altitude quickly. An important factor is the altitude of your sleeping location. Gradual ascent is important to allow your body to get used to the reduced oxygen. DO NOT go from low altitude to sleeping above 8000-9000ft in one day. Instead, give yourself two to three days to adjust to the higher altitude. Once you are above 9000ft, don't increase your sleeping altitude more than 1600ft/day. Altitude sickness is can be worse if you are drinking alcohol; in general, drinking alcohol should be avoided for the first 48 hours at elevation. Consider spending the day at altitude, and returning to lower altitude to sleep, to reduce the risk.


Symptoms suggestive of altitude sickness include:

  • headache

  • nausea

  • tiredness

  • vomiting

  • confusion (symptom of severe illness)

  • shortness of breath (symptom of severe illness)

Treatment:

  • Keep hydrated

  • Mild symptoms can be treated with over the counter anti-inflammatory medications eg advil

  • If you are experiencing symptoms that are getting worse at the same altitude, it is imperative to descend- this should improve symptoms dramatically.

The biggest risk factors for experiencing altitude sickness are a history of altitude sickness and other underlying health conditions.


If you are planning a trip to altitude, make sure to discuss whether or not you should take a medication for prevention purposes.


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