Close look on altitude sickness

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Altitude sickness can occur at altitudes of 8,000 feet and above. This can occur while hiking, mountain climbing or engaging in activities at high areas where the body could not get enough oxygen.

Those who are not used to high areas are at risk with initial symptoms such as headache and insomnia. The condition should not be taken lightly since it can become hazardous. Altitude sickness is not possible to predict since anyone at high elevation can develop it.

What are the indications?

The indications of altitude sickness can manifest right away or in a gradual manner. The usual symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
    The indications of altitude sickness can manifest right away or in a gradual manner.
  • Headache
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

If the condition progresses, the symptoms can become serious such as:

  • Coughing
  • Discolored skin
  • Confusion
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing up blood-streaked mucus
  • Shortness of breath even while at rest
  • Diminished level of consciousness
  • Inability to walk in a straight line

What are the types of altitude sickness?

  • Acute mountain sickness (AMS) – the most prevalent form of altitude sickness that causes symptoms that striking resemble being intoxicated
  • High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) – this occurs if the condition progresses. This is a severe form of AMS where the brain becomes swollen and ceases to function normally. The characteristic symptoms include severe drowsiness, difficulty walking, irritability and confusion. If not treated, it can lead to death.
  • High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) – this is the result if HACE progresses but can also occur on its own. There is excess buildup of fluid in the lungs which makes them difficult to function. The characteristic symptoms include weakness, severe coughing and increased breathlessness during exertion.


Immediate descent to a lower altitude can relieve the early indications of altitude sickness. Nevertheless, it is vital to seek medical attention if the symptoms are advanced.

Acetozolamide is given to reduce the symptoms and improve labored breathing. In some cases, dexamethasone which is a steroid might be given. Other treatment options include a lung inhaler, phosphodiesterase inhibitor and high blood pressure medication. These helps reduce the pressure on the arteries in the lungs. A breathing device can aid the individual if he/she could not breathe on his/her own.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on altitude sickness is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage this environmental emergency by taking a standard first aid course with Victoria First Aid.

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