What’s this we hear about altitude and getting sick?

If you are planning your first expedition in high altitude, then you are probably starting to hear the words altitude sickness. Without getting too technical, what happens is some people tend to get sick, the higher up a mountain they go. It is caused by your body not being able to absorb the oxygen at that altitude due to the oxygen molecules being far from each other.

Some get sick more than others, and get different symptoms from mild to severe. Studies have been done, but they are not entirely sure why. Here are some ways to prevent as best possible altitude sickness, that I have learnt from experience and of course online.

Note: Altitude sickness generally starts from 2,500 metres.

Ways to prevent:

  • Walk slow, pace yourself and avoid ascending to high altitudes too fast. You’ll need your body to adjust to the altitude. Almost all tour operators know this, but sometimes some guides might go faster, try to speak to the guide to slow down.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Rest days are great to acclimatize with a short and easy walk
  • Do not drink alcohol
  • You may ask your doctor to prescribe you Diamox, which helps the body to acclimatize. You may find them in clinics in the UAE. Start taking them two days before you start ascending.

Some AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) symptoms to look out for

  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shortness in breath while walking
  • Not being able to sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

(HAPE) – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

This occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs, making it hard to breathe. Which can be understandably pretty fatal if left unattended and is considered severe. Things to look out for:

  • Sounds of gurgling when breathing
  • Shortness of breath when not in motion
  • Consistent cough. The type of cough and sputum is essential here.
  • Extreme fatigue

(HACE) – High Altitude Celebral Edema

This occurs when there is fluid in the brain and is considered severe as can be fatal.

These are some things to look out for:

  • Mental state changes
  • Lack of enthusiasm
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of Coordination


Other points on the matter:

  • Be honest with yourself. If you are feeling sick, tell your guide. Severe illness can endanger not only your life but your group members.
  • Be responsible to your fellow group members too. Notice any change in their characteristics? They may be feeling ill and not talking about it.
  • Descend to lower grounds immediately if symptoms get severe.
  • Never leave the affected person alone and keep an eye out for increasing symptoms
  • If there is a doctor around, consult them.

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