Archive for June 2012

What is altitude sickness?   2 comments

Altitude sickness is a well known and common phenomenon, affecting people of all fitness levels and ages.  It commonly occurs above 2400m (8000 feet) due to exposure to the low partial pressure of oxygen at high altitude.

Altitude sickness has three forms:

1)      Mild altitude sickness is called acute mountain sickness (AMS) and is quite similar to a hangover – it causes headache, nausea, and fatigue. This is very common: some people are only slightly affected, others feel awful.

2)      HAPE (high altitude pulmonary oedema) – is excess fluid on the lungs, and causes breathlessness. It is never normal to feel breathless when you are resting – even on the summit of Everest. This should be taken as a sign that you have HAPE and may die soon. HAPE can also cause a fever (a high temperature) and coughing up frothy spit.

3)      HACE (high altitude cerebral oedema) – is fluid on the brain. It causes confusion, clumsiness, and stumbling. The first signs may be uncharacteristic behaviour such as laziness, excessive emotion or violence. Drowsiness and loss of consciousness occur shortly before death.

Treatment of HAPE and HACE

–  Immediate descent is absolutely essential

–  Dexamethasone and acetazolamide should both be given, if available

–  Pressure bags and oxygen gas can buy time

What causes altitude sickness?

Two things are certain to make altitude sickness very likely – ascending faster than 500m per day, and exercising vigourously. Physically fit individuals are not protected – even Olympic athletes get altitude sickness. Altitude sickness happens because there is less oxygen in the air than at high altitudes.

Altitude sickness prevention

Go up slowly, take it easy, and give your body time to get used to the altitude. The body has an amazing ability to acclimatise to altitude, but it needs time. For instance, it takes about a week to adapt to an altitude of 5000m.

Ensure you are acclimatised before you head to altitude. You can now acclimatise to altitudes equivalent to the top of Mount Everest from the comfort of your own home giving you the most effective preparation before you step foot on the plane.

Please help us to spread this information as widely as possible. Everyone who travels to high altitude should know this. Following these simple rules could prevent many deaths in the mountains each year.


Posted 19/06/2012 by acclimatiseme in Uncategorized