Posted on May 16th, 2011 by brian in How To...

  • Diamox,treatmentpreventionDefinition of Altitude Illness: A variety of illnesses experienced by poorly acclimated individuals, usually occurring within the first several days of ascending too quickly to altitudes greater than 8,000 feet.
  • Cause of Altitude Illness: Low atmospheric pressure, exacerbated by high activity levels dehydration, excessive consumption of alcohol, poor diet, and the use of over-the-counter sleeping medications.
  • Mild Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) Individuals with AMS have headaches, shortness of breath when exercising, loss of appetite, insomnia, weariness and fatigue. (Similar to an alcohol hangover.)

Treatment: Wait for improvement before continuing. Aspirin or acetaminophen is useful for treating headaches. The prescription drug Acetazolamide (Diamox) may reduce the incidence and the severity of AMS. Increase water consumption and eat more carbohydrate foods. Symptoms will usually clear-up within 24 – 48 hours. Those experiencing Mild AMS should consider it a warning and should take time to acclimatize before continuing. Those that do not acclimatize well should descend to lower altitudes.


  • Moderate Acute Mountain Sickness. The symptoms of mild AMS have progressed to the point that the victim is very uncomfortable. Severe headaches, only partially, or not relieved with aspirin, weakness, weariness, fatigue, nausea, breathlessness at rest and lack of coordination are common symptoms.

Treatment: Persons with moderate AMS must stop ascending and if condition does not improve must descend to lower altitudes. Failing to recognize what is happening and not descending quickly can result in a life threatening medical emergency (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) occurring within hours and resulting in the death of the victim.

  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) HAPE is the most dangerous form of AMS because it can progress to life threatening seriousness in only a matter of hours. Early signs include marked breathlessness on exertion, breathlessness at rest, decreased exercise capacity, increased respiratory and heart rate. In moderate to severe HAPE there is marked weakness and fatigue, bluish discoloration of the skin, a dry raspy cough, and gurgling sounds in the chest. As HAPE worsens a productive cough develops.

Treatment: Immediate descent to lower altitudes is essential. Descend 2,000 to 4,000 feet — get below 8,000 feet if possible. Keep the victim warm. Exert the patient as little as possible. Advanced treatment may consist of administering Acetazolamide in mild cases of HAPE and Nifedipine in moderate to severe cases.




  • Go up slowly — the faster the rate of ascent the more likely it is that symptoms will occur.
  • Layover at intermediate altitudes before ascending to the final altitude.
  • Take it easy and avoid overexertion
  • Increase your consumption of water and avoid alcohol
  • Do not use over-the-counter sleeping aids
  • Eat more carbohydrates
  • Sleep at lower altitudes
  • If you know you are susceptible consult your doctor about appropriate drugs


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