Altitude sickness

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Altitude sickness is a prevalent condition that occurs if an individual climb to areas with high altitude rapidly. The drop in the atmospheric pressure causes difficulty breathing since not enough oxygen is taken in. Most cases are relatively mild with symptoms such as:

In rare instances, altitude sickness can cause the build-up of fluid either on the lungs or the brain. Remember that these are serious conditions that necessitate prompt medical care.

Indications of severe altitude sickness

  • Bubbling sound in the chest
  • Coughing up frothy, pinkish liquid
  • Worsening breathlessness
  • Difficulty walking and clumsiness
  • Confusion that leads to loss of consciousness
    Altitude sickness
    If an individual has minor indications of altitude sickness, he/she should not ascend no less than 24-48 hours.

What should I do?

If an individual has minor indications of altitude sickness, he/she should not ascend no less than 24-48 hours. The climb can be continued if the symptoms settle after this.

In case the symptoms worsen or do not improve after 24-48 hours, he/she must go down at least 500 meters.

For a severe case, it is considered as a medical emergency. The individual should immediately go down to an area with lower altitude and seek medical help.


Always bear in mind that proper acclimatization to altitudes of about 2,500 m or more is the ideal way to prevent altitude sickness. It typically takes a few days for the body to get accustomed to the change in the altitude.

Steady ascent will allow the body time to adapt to the altitude change. In addition, it is important to keep the body hydrated but alcohol beverages must be avoided.

Who are at risk?

Altitude sickness is quite prevalent among those who spend time at areas with extreme altitudes such as skiers and mountaineers.

In its minor form, the condition can manifest at heights over 2,500 meters above sea level which is the usual height for various ski resorts. Nevertheless, the severe symptoms usually occur at altitudes of 3,600 meters and above.

It is important to note that there are no precise factors that increases the likelihood for developing altitude sickness. Remember that if the individual previously had the condition, it does not mean that he/she will not develop it in the future.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on altitude sickness is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage environmental emergencies such as altitude sickness, register for a first aid and CPR course with Victoria First Aid.

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