Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs when a person goes to a high altitude (usually 8,500 feet or higher) without first letting the body adjust to the higher elevation. It can occur in anyone regardless of physical condition and generally develops over 24 to 96 hours. Altitude sickness can make a person seriously ill and should be treated as a life-threatening condition and a medical emergency.

SYMPTOMS

  • Severe headache.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Dizziness.

  • Confusion.

  • Uncoordinated movements.

  • Fatigue.

  • Weakness.

  • Hallucinations.

Sometimes swelling of the brain (high altitude cerebral edema) can occur.

TREATMENT

The most effective treatment is oxygen, rapid evacuation to a lower altitude, and hospitalization.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Exercise lightly for the first 24 to 36 hours.

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat small, light meals.

  • Avoid smoking, sedatives, and alcoholic beverages.

  • To prevent altitude sickness during future trips, give your body a few days to adjust to the changes in altitude before starting activities. Go to higher elevations slowly giving your body time to adjust. Visit higher elevations during the daytime and return to lower elevations at night. Medicines are available that can prevent this illness. If you have previously been diagnosed with altitude sickness, it is best to be preventively (prophylactically) placed on one of these medicines.

  • If altitude sickness symptoms develop while climbing, it is best to descend to a lower altitude as rapidly as possible.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You do not feel better in 4 hours or as directed by your caregiver.

  • You have altitude sickness and returning to a lower elevation dose not relieve the symptoms.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have severe shortness of breath.

  • You have chest pain.

  • You have a fast heart beat.

  • You have an increasingly severe headache.

  • You have a dry cough that produces bloody sputum.

  • You have difficulty walking.

  • You have difficulty concentrating.

  • You are confused.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.