7 Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

When planning that long-awaited skiing or hiking trip in the mountains, it’s a good idea to understand the potential impact of higher elevations on your body. Especially if you live at a lower elevation, from sea level to a few thousand feet, moving too quickly to altitudes over 8000 feet (2,400 M) may induce some altitude sickness.

Altitude Sickness symptoms may seem much like the flu or a hangover. However, if you experience multiple symptoms within hours of arriving at high altitude, it’s a good idea to proceed with caution. Stop, rest, and don’t ascend any higher for 24-48 hours. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water. Avoid alcohol, smoking and strenuous activity. It’s okay to take medication for headache and nausea.

If symptoms persist, it may be best to move to a lower elevation until you have recovered. Proceeding to a higher elevation after already experiencing symptoms of altitude sickness can lead to more serious, even deadly syndromes such as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), as fluid gathers in the lungs or brain.

With proper precautions, most enthusiasts can enjoy the adventures to be had at high altitude without uncomfortable side effects. It’s best not to climb more than 1,000 feet per day. Many sports retailers now sell oxygen in canisters which can help alleviate the effects of the thinner atmosphere. The following is a list of symptoms to watch out for when ascending over 8,000 feet:

1. Headache

Developing a headache is not uncommon in higher altitudes, especially for those who are prone to migraines even at lower altitudes. However, if a headache begins to develop within hours of arriving at a higher altitude and is combined with several of the following symptoms, it should be considered a warning sign.

High altitude headache, or HAH, often begins as a dull pressure and develops into a headache in the temple and forehead area that is aggravated by bending or exertion. HAH is considered the most common symptom of the onset of altitude sickness. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and slow your pace or take a complete break until your body adjusts to the higher elevation. When descending, the headache should dissipate within about eight hours. If headaches are not uncommon for you, feel free to take your regular non-narcotic medication.