Altitude Sickness

What is High Altitude?

  • High altitude is between 5,000-11,500 feet
  • Very high altitude is between 11,500-18,000 feet
  • Extreme altitude is above 18,000 feet

What is altitude sickness?

  • Altitude sickness is something that can affect people who climb or travel to more than 8,000 feet, particularly if they climb or travel too quickly. It is rare at altitudes of less than 8,000 feet and is more common at altitudes of 11,500 feet or more.
  • Altitude sickness is due to the fact that your body has not acclimatized to the altitude that you are at. For most people, it may produce mild symptoms that improve with rest and time.  Most symptoms are a bad headache, nausea, dizziness, lethargy, and sleeplessness.  Altitude sickness includes a spectrum of conditions from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)  which is similar to a hangover, or to more serious symptoms which can become life-threatening.  Anyone over 8,000 feet should stay well hydrated and watch for symptoms, taking preventive measures.

Who is at risk of altitude sickness?

It is difficult to predict who will be affected by altitude sickness.  However, your risk is higher:

  • If you climb too quickly at a higher altitude
  • If the altitude you sleep is higher
  • If you come from, and are used to living in a very low altitude
  • If you have had altitude sickness before
  • If you are susceptible to developing altitude sickness – genetics may play a part in you susceptibility
  • If you have a high level of exertion (i.e. very physical activity) at the altitude. The more active you are, the greater the risk.

Treatment

It’s smarter to prevent mountain sickness than to take your chances and treat it later.  Once symptoms have set in, reduce altitiude (resulting to more oxygen in the air) and drink water.  Acetaminophen may reduce the headache, but it won’t cure the symptoms.  When more severe symptoms appear, it becomes necessary to see a physician or provider who can prescribe something for nausea.  In severe cases that progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), treatment may consist of oxygen by mask or in a hyperbaric chamber and medication to treat swelling in the brain and lungs is necessary.  These are life-threatening emergencies, Call 911 immediately

To get advice on preventing altitude illness so you don’t get sick and need emergency treatment, or if you or someone you know shows symptoms of altitude illness, visit our walk-in clinic Grand Ave Urgent Care to see a provider for altitude illness treatment.


Grand Ave Urgent Care is open well past normal business hours, providing you and your family the ultimate in flexible, affordable, friendly medical care. We recognize the uniqueness of children who are less than 3 months old. If your child is less than 3 months old, please see your pediatrician, family doctor or go to the hospital.