altitude sickness, symptoms, prevention

Altitude Sickness 

Altitude sickness, also known as mountain sickness, is a medical condition which ranges from weariness and mild headache to fatal build-up of fluid in the brain or lungs. It presents a collection of uncertain symptoms, obtained in low air pressure or high altitude, resembling a case of a hangover, carbon monoxide poisoning or flu. It is difficult to determine who’s going to be affected by this condition as there are no certain factors which correlate to the vulnerability of altitude sickness.

Acute altitude sickness is the most common and mildest form of the illness. Since a lot of people travel to places with high elevation for mountain climbing or skiing, acute altitude sickness has turned into a serious public health concern. Aside from acute, altitude sickness can also progress to HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) or HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema), which are potentially life-threatening.

HAPE happens when the fluid builds up in the lungs, which makes it extremely hard for someone to breathe. Commonly, this occurs after the 2nd day of spending time at an elevated place. However, it can also materialize later or earlier. Once not treated early, HAPE can progress into respiratory collapse and then later on, death. HAPE is unfortunately the most common reason of death from altitude sickness.

HACE on the other hand, happens when fluid builds up in the brain. As fluid gets to the brain and as the brain smells it, the normal state of mind of a person changes. He may lose his coordination, be in a coma and ultimately die unless the problem is promptly recognized and treated.

What Triggers the Occurrence of Altitude Sickness?

There are several things that trigger the occurrence of altitude sickness and among which include:

  • Climbing or ascending too quickly
  • Insufficient intake of fluid
  • Hypothermia
  • Overexertion within twenty-four hours of climbing
  • Drinking of alcohol and form of sedatives

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

This illness may be related to any combination of the symptoms mentioned below.

  • Not liking to eat
  • Feeling sick or like vomiting
  • A throbbing headache which gets worse at night and as you wake up
  • Dizziness
  • Unable to sleep well at night
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Reduced appetite
  • Shortness of breathing
  • Social withdrawal
  • Swelling of extremities
  • Feeling tired or weak. Apparently, you don’t the energy to do anything

Such symptoms can start from mild to severe. For most people who have experienced the condition say it feels likes having a hangover. The condition can affect the brain and lungs. Once this happens, the symptoms now include being unable to walk in a straight manner, being confused, fainting, and having gray or blue fingernails or lips.


Commonly, symptoms of altitude sickness are triggered after you reached an elevated area. The best way to treat the condition is to change location and go to a place with lower altitude. If you are suffering from mild symptoms though, make yourself at ease in the place or get used to it. Also, you may use oxygen or pressure chamber specifically designed to cure altitude sickness. If you’ll be staying in a high altitude, take a rest, drink lots of fluids, don’t drink alcohol and limit your walking or any activity. All these are effective ways of coping to the condition and preventing individuals’ worst feelings.


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