Hepatitis C

What is altitude sickness?

Fact Checked

Once there is lack of oxygen in the body, it can cause altitude sickness. When flying, hiking, mountain climbing or driving at areas with high altitude, the body could not receive enough oxygen.

Altitude sickness typically occurs at altitudes of 8,000 feet and higher. Individuals who are not used to these heights are at high risk with symptoms such as insomnia and headache.

Remember that this condition should not be taken lightly and has the potential to become dangerous. The condition is difficult to predict and anyone at high levels can develop it.

What are the types of altitude sickness?

  • Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the most prevalent form of altitude sickness. The symptoms are strikingly similar to being intoxicated.
  • High-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) develops if acute mountain sickness is allowed to progress. The symptoms are similar to AMS but also causes drowsiness and confusion. If not promptly treated, it can be deadly.
  • High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is simply progression of HAVE but can also occur on its own. The symptoms include coughing, intensified breathlessness during exertion and weakness. If not promptly treated by descending or administering oxygen, it can lead to breathlessness while resting or even death.

What are the causes?

Altitude sickness
Individuals who are not used to these heights are at high risk with symptoms such as insomnia and headache.

If the body could not acclimatize to high altitudes, altitude sickness develops. It is quite common at elevations above 8,000 feet. As the altitude increases, the air becomes thinner and less saturated with oxygen. The other causes of altitude sickness include the following:

  • Low humidity
  • Extreme cold
  • Diminished air pressure
  • Increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation

What are the signs and symptoms?

The indications of altitude sickness can manifest right away or in a gradual manner which includes the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath (with or without exertion)
  • Rapid heart beat

The serious symptoms that can manifest include the following:

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


Immediate descending to a lower altitude can alleviate the early symptoms of altitude sickness. Nevertheless, it is vital to seek medical care if the advanced symptoms of acute mountain sickness manifest.

Acetazolamide is the medication given to minimize the symptoms of altitude sickness and improves labored breathing. In some cases, the steroid dexamethasone can be given.

The other treatment options include high blood pressure medications, lung inhaler and phosphodiesterase inhibitor medication. These work by reducing the pressure on the arteries in the lungs. In addition, a breathing device can provide assistance if the individual could not breathe on his/her own.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional

  • All firstaidcprvictoria.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.