Altitude Fast Facts
Do I have altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness, also called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a combination of symptoms that are present when your body does not adapt to its current altitude. The most frequent symptoms of AMS are headache, queasiness, tiredness and trouble sleeping.
Am I at risk of developing AMS?
Anyone who goes to altitude can get AMS; despite age, gender, physical fitness, or previous altitude experience. If you know from previous experience that you are susceptible to AMS, there are steps you can take to prevent it.
What can I do to prevent AMS?
You can greatly reduce the symptoms of AMS by asking your doctor for a prescription drug called acetazolamide (Diamox). If you are not sure if you are susceptible, but want to optimize your experience at altitude, we recommend you:
- Avoid going directly to a sleeping altitude of over 9,000 ft in one day
- Consider adding a day at a modest altitude such as Denver (5,000 to 6,000 feet)
Once at higher altitudes we recommend you:
- Drink more fluids and less alcohol
- Eat less salty foods
- Take it easy for the first day or two
When to seek medical help?
If your symptoms get worse or do not go away after a day or two at altitude, you need to seek medical help. All medical centers in altitude communities are used to dealing with these symptoms.
My heart seems to beat faster, is this normal?
On arrival at altitude many people notice that they are more breathless and their heart beats faster, especially when they exert themselves. These are your body's normal, early responses to altitude adaptation.
I am in very good physical shape – doesn't that mean that I’m less likely to feel the effects of the altitude?
Being physically fit does not prevent you from experiencing AMS symptoms. There does not seem to be a link between fitness level and susceptibility to altitude illness.
I have a mild headache – is it safe to take Tylenol?
You can take one or two tablets of tylenol, aspirin, or ibuprofen. You can buy those at a drug store.
Age - should I worry more about feeling poorly because I am older?
Actually, older people seem to be less susceptible to AMS.
I know I don’t feel well when I get to higher elevations – is there a prescription I can take?
You can ask your doctor for acetazolamide (Diamox), a prescription drug that alleviates AMS symptoms. Known side-effects include: increased urinary output, a tingling sensation in fingers and toes. It also makes carbonated beverages taste flat. If you're allergic to sulfa drugs you should not take Diamox.
Are there any over the counter drugs / herbal remedies that counteract the effects of altitude?
There are some studies that suggest Gingko Biloba may decrease AMS symptoms in some individuals.
What warning signals should I be aware of?
Warning signals of AMS are: headache, queasy stomach, tiredness and trouble sleeping. Symptoms lasting more than a couple of days, difficulty breathing at rest, loss of coordination, or extreme listlessness are signs you need to seek immediate medical attention.
I am pregnant – is it safe for me to go to higher elevations?
Travel to moderate altitude (8,000-12,000 feet) is not a problem in pregnancy. However the terrain for skiers and hikers may be a problem for some women later in pregnancy.
What about children at altitude?
Children also get symptoms of AMS. In the very young pre-verbal children this may manifest in fussiness, decreased appetite and trouble sleeping.
I have high blood pressure – is it safe for me to go to higher elevations?
Blood pressure levels do increase the first few days at moderate altitudes. If you know you have high blood pressure and take medication for this, it may be advisable to check it once or twice after arrival at altitude to see if your medication requires adjustment. Remember if you increase your meds at altitude, you may need to decrease them again when you return home.
I have heart disease / lung disease - is it safe for me to go to high altitude?
Some people with chronic lung conditions may require oxygen when traveling to altitude. It is best to check with your own doctor for advice. Some people with heart problems like angina may get more heart pains in the first day or two before they adapt. Others who have had stents or bypass surgery may do just fine. Give our altitude clinic a call for a consultation on your condition.
I just got to the mountains last night and am feeling queasy – what should I do?
Queasiness is a common symptom of AMS. It will usually pass in 24-36 hours. Avoiding alcohol and eating foods that are easy to digest may be helpful.
I’ve planned a party on my first night at altitude – should I?
It is best to wait until you have adapted to altitude before you party. The combination of alcohol, the dry air and altitude may make you feel more tired and dehydrated the next day
I feel more tired that I expected – should I take it easy – for how long?
Feeling tired is a common symptom of altitude adaptation. Your symptoms should go away in 24-36 hours.
I have trouble sleeping and keep waking up at night.
This is one of the more common symptoms of altitude exposure. Your sleep will improve with each night you stay. If it continues you can use low doses of acetazolamide (Diamox) to help you sleep.