Altitude sickness or mountain sickness characteristics

What is altitude sickness or mountain sickness?

ALTITUDE SICKNESS is a disorder that occurs when people climb to high places without giving the body the time to adjust to the new altitude. This condition occurs from 2500 m.

Altitude sickness can be classified into:

Acute: when a person climbs in a rough manner without being adapted to it previously.

Chronic: it appears in people who live in very high places or in those who have undergone prolonged periods of adaptation.

Altitude sickness is a disorder that can affect many people in the world, because every day there are more people traveling to high mountains or to countries that are very elevated from the sea level. Mountain tourism is becoming more fashionable.

People who want to travel to high places should take into consideration a range of symptoms that can affect them. The mountaineer, climber, skier or mountain visitor should recognize them, should know how how to react or know the guidelines or resources to avoid it as much as possible.

Symptoms of altitude sickness

As the height increases the manifestations may be more prominent:

  • Between 2500 and 3500 meters: shortness of breath and increased heart rate.
  • 4000 meters: headache, fatigue, thirst, profuse sweating and nervousness.
  • Above 4000 meters: vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, poor appetite, loss of muscle strength, changes in behavior, feeling of drunkenness, etc.
  • Above 7000 meters: disorientation, severe difficulty in breathing, very high heart rate, total lack of muscle strength, tremors, unconsciousness and even respiratory coma.

Severe cases of altitude sickness: In some people above 3000 ms, a lung edema may appear, after spending 6 to 36 hours at this point. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, weight on the chest and coughing

Another accident which may occur is called the altitude cerebral edema produced by brain tissue edema and represents a danger to the patient’s life. Its symptoms include: disorientation, loss of consciousness, hallucinations, memory loss, psychosis and, in severe cases, coma.

Causes of altitude sickness

Although the exact causes of this disease are not known, we can mention the following:

Hypoxia: Lack of oxygen in the blood as a result of the lower atmospheric pressure in high places. Although there are similar levels of oxygen, lower pressure reduces the availability of it into the body. The passage of oxygen from the alveoli into the capillaries is caused by pressure difference. Because oxygen at high altitudes has less pressure, the proportion passing to the blood is lower.

Dehydration: In addition to having less oxygen, it produces a thickening of the blood as a result of the transfer of fluids from the blood to tissues, with the consequent difficulty of lower circulation and oxygen supply to the cells. Upon reduced blood flow, the body is not capable of adequately remove the toxins.

This involves a series of symptoms like fatigue, headache, thirst, etc.


In order to avoid altitude sickness it is necessary for people to adapt their body at high altitudes. To do this possible, you must remain for a few days at a certain height until your body adapts. The adaptation is performed by the body with two body changes:

  • Increase of the amount of red blood cells: red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from the blood into cells. A greater number of red blood cells means greater ease of oxygenation.
  • Increase the size of the capillaries: The capillaries become wider so blood can flow more easily.
  • Increased lung capacity: The highest lung capacity allows more air intake without increasing heart rate.

The individual response to altitude sickness is different and may arise from 2500 meters. Altitude sickness usually affects people who normally live at low altitudes, especially those who live by the sea. There are no medications that can prevent any possible altitude sickness

How to acclimatize?

Among the top tips to adapt to altitude sickness we can point out the following:

  • Till 2500 meters, adaptation is not needed.
  • At altitudes above 2500 meters, one should not climb more than 300 meters a day. In any case, at bedtime, it is important to descend about 600 meters less than what we have raised during the day.
  • From 3500 m, one should not climb 300 or 400 meters each day. Every two days of climbing, one should relax.
  • From the 5000 meters there is no acclimation that ensures that one would not suffer altitude sickness or a serious case of altitude sickness.

What helps and what is bad for altitude sickness?

Since there is a great loss of fluids, it is convenient to hydrate the body by drinking plenty of fluids. Not just water, because you can take fruit juices, vegetable broths or plants infusions. It is important to take 4 to 5 liters of fluid daily, even if not thirsty.

A diet rich in carbohydrates, high in fruits and starchy foods can provide adequate energy for the body to overcome the effort that must be done. The person making efforts in the mountains must be supplied even without hunger. (See appropriate plants to altitude sickness in the “Diet for altitude sickness” in the listing above)

Keep in mind that you should not drink liquids that contain alcohol. Tobacco makes breathing more difficult so you should not smoke.

Inadequate clothes contribute to the dehydration and may worsen the altitude sickness. During the period of adaptation is important not to make too much physical effort.

Treatment of altitude sickness

The adaptation is usually over a period of time ranging from 3 to 10 days. In case of absence of the adaptation is necessary to descend to a lower level where the above symptoms are not presented. Taking a rest at lower elevations will normally be sufficient to recover the body again. If you don’t do so or in case of getting worse, you should seek medical advice.

In severe cases of altitude sickness, as in cases of pulmonary edema or cerebral edema, it is required the patient to be transferred to a hospital. This is also necessary, if, after a rest period at lower heights, some symptoms are still present, such as mental confusion, inability to walk straight, cough, sore chest, This treatment should also be given to people suffering from chronic mountain sickness.

Many experts recommend that pregnant women should not go higher than 2400 m.

People with controlled anomalies either cardiovascular, metabolic or respiratory problems, such as hypertensive. obese people, or those who have mild emphysema, do not have to fear that altitude sickness will make their condition worse that in other people.

However, people with severe metabolic disorders, cardiovascular or breathing problems (e.g. severe heart patients, severe emphysema or sickled cell anemia) should refrain from climbing at high altitude or in any case, check with your doctor.

Natural treatment of altitude sickness involves using a series of natural resources that will help prevent their occurrence or ameliorate the symptoms of the person when they take place.

More information on altitude sickness and its natural treatment in the listing above.

Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

28 March, 2019

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Botanical-online is an informative page that describes, among other topics, the traditional uses of plants from a therapeutic point of view. Their descriptions do not replace professional advice. Botanical-online is not responsible for self-medication and recommends consulting with the physician.