What is altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is suffered by people travelling to a high altitude. It is also known as acute mountain sickness (often shortened to AMS). When you have altitude sickness, breathing becomes difficult and you struggle to take in enough oxygen.
If you have altitude sickness but ignore your symptoms and continue to climb to higher altitudes, there is a chance it could develop into a more serious condition such as High Altitude Cerebral Oedema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema (HAPE).
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
The symptoms of altitude sickness tend to come out 6-24 hours after reaching an altitude of 3000m (9842 feet) or above. They are also usually worse at night.
Having altitude sickness feels a lot like having a hangover. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling sick and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
What causes altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is caused by travelling to a high altitude too quickly. It has nothing to do with age, gender, or physical fitness. There’s a chance you could suffer from this condition any time you travel to a high altitude, regardless of whether you’ve had it before.
It isn’t possible to get altitude sickness in the UK since the tallest mountain in UK, Ben Nevis, is well below 3000m. Ben Nevis height is actually 1345m.
How can you treat altitude sickness?
It is worth carrying some medication with you on trips to high altitude places, since you can’t predict if you will suffer from mountain sickness or not.
A great medication to take with you to higher altitudes is acetazolamide for altitude sickness. Paracetamol and ibuprofen are also useful to carry for treating headaches, and an anti-nausea medication such as promethazine is helpful for combating sickness.
If you think you are suffering from altitude sickness, you should stop and rest and avoid travelling or climbing to a higher altitude. Drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol and smoking, and take the appropriate medication for your symptoms as outlined above.
What can you do to help prevent altitude sickness?
It’s not always possible to prevent altitude sickness, but to have the best chance of not getting it you should travel to high altitudes slowly. This means you should try to avoid flying directly to a high altitude, and if you’re climbing a mountain, don’t climb more than 300-500m a day.
Take 2-3 days to acclimatise to a higher altitude before going above 3000m. If you’re climbing or walking in high altitude, it’s a good idea to rest for a day every 3-4 days or every 600-900m you climb.
Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and smoking.