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Acute Mountain sickness

Acute mountain sickness or High Altitude sickness is an illness that can effect mountain climbers, hikers, skier, or travelers at high altitude usaully above 2400 meters. It is cause by reduced in air pressure and lower oxigen level in high altitude. The faster you ascent to a higher altitude, the more likely you will get mountain sickness. You are at higher risk for acute mountain sickness if: 1) you live at or near sea level and travel to high altitude. 2) if you had the illness before.


Your symptoms will depend on the speed of your climb and how hard you push yourself. Symptoms range from mild to life threatening. They can effect the nervous system, lungs, muscles and heart. In most case, symtoms are mild. Symptoms of mild to moderate acute mountian sickness may include;

  1. difficulty in sleeping
  2. dizziness or light-headedness
  3. Fatigue
  4. Loss of appetite
  5. Nausea or vomiting
  6. Rapid pulse (heart rate)
  7. Shortness of breath with exertion

Symtoms that may occur with more severe acute mountian sickness include:

  1. blue color to the skin (cyanosis)
  2. chest tighness or congestion
  3. confusion (inability to think)
  4. cough
  5. coughing up blood
  6. Decreased consciousseness or withdrawal from socail interection
  7. gray or pale complexion
  8. cannot walk in a striaght line or walk at all
  9. Shortness of breath at rest
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              click here for the websites providing good information about acute mountain sickness; Wikipedia,, and Medlineplus




Early diagnosis is important. Acute mountian sickness is easier to treat in the early stage. The treatment for all forms is to climb down to a lower altitude as a rapidly and safely as possible. You should not continue climbing if you develop symptoms.

Extra oxigen should be given, if avialable.

Poeple with severe symptom may need to be admitted to a hospital

Acetazolamide (Diamox) may be given to help you breathe better. It can help reduce mild symptoms. This medicine can make you urinate more often. Make sure you drink Plenty of fluids and avoid alcohol when taking this drug. This medication works best when taken before reeaching a high altitude.

If you have fliulds in your lungs (pulmonary edema), treatment may include

  1. oxygen
  2. A high blood pressure medicine called nifedpine
  3. Breathing machine is severe cases
  4. Medicine to increase blood flow to the lungs called phosphodiesterase inhibitor (such as slidenafil)

Dexamethasone (Decatron) may help reduce swelling in the brain (cerebral edema).

Portable hyperbaric chambers allow hikers to simulate conditions at lower altitudes without actually moving from their location on the mountain. These devices are very helpful if bad weather or other factors make climbing down the mountian impossible.


Keys to preventing acute mountain sickness include;

  • Climb the mountian gradually
  • Stop for a day or two of rest for every 2,000 feet (600 meters) above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters)
  • Sleep at a lower altitude when possible
  • Learn how to recognize early symtoms of mountian sickness

If you are traveling above 3000 meters, you should carry enough oxygen for several days. If you plan on quickly climbing to a high altitude, ask your doctor about a medicaition called acetaolamide (Dimox). This drug helps your body get used to higher altitudes more quickly, and reduce minor symptoms. It should be taken the day before you climb and then for the next 1 to 2 days.

If you are at risk for a low red blood count (anemia), Ask you doctor if an iron supplement is right for you. Anemia lowers the amount of oxygen in your blood. This makes you more likely to have mountian sickness. While climbing:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Aviod alcohol
  • Eat regular meals, high in carbohydrates

you should avoid high altitude if you have heart or lung disease.