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Mountain Sickness


  • Mountain sickness is a condition that happens when you travel to high altitudes (heights). Mountain sickness is also called high altitude sickness. Oxygen levels in the air decrease as altitudes get higher. When there is less oxygen in the air, your body cannot get the oxygen it needs to function properly. Acute mountain sickness can happen when you climb to high altitudes too quickly, such as when mountain climbing or skiing. Chronic mountain sickness happens to people who live at higher altitudes all year long. When your body has less oxygen it makes more red blood cells and can cause your blood to become thick. Mountain sickness can cause you to have headaches, dizziness, tiredness, and trouble breathing. Severe (very bad) mountain sickness may cause fluid to collect in your lungs or brain, and may be life-threatening.
  • Your caregiver may know you have mountain sickness by learning what your symptoms are. Mild mountain sickness may go away by resting and allowing your body to get used to the decreased oxygen. In many cases, moving down to a lower altitude will take away your symptoms. Treatment may include oxygen and medicines to help you adjust to the oxygen level. For chronic mountain sickness, you may need to have some of your blood removed to reduce the amount of blood in your body. Treatment for mountain sickness may decrease your symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and tiredness. Treatment may make it easier for you to breathe, and may even save your life.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

  • Antinausea medicine: This medicine may be given to calm your stomach and prevent vomiting.
  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are over-the-counter medicines that may help your headache pain. Ask your caregiver how much medicine you should take, and how often.
  • Steroids: Steroid medicine may be given to decrease inflammation (swelling).

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

Rest and oxygen:

Your caregiver may have you stay in bed until your symptoms of mountain sickness go away. Your caregiver also may have you rest at home with oxygen to help you breath better.

Preventing mountain sickness:

  • Bring a first aid kit with medicines to prevent headaches. Talk to your caregiver about what medicines you can bring that may help prevent mountain sickness. Make sure you have water in your first aid kit to prevent dehydration (loss of body water).
  • Do not do heavy exercise right after you travel to higher altitudes. Your body cannot adjust right away to the changes in the oxygen level. Heavy exercise may increase your chance of getting mountain sickness.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take sedatives (sleep medicines). Alcohol and sedatives make it harder for your body to adjust to the decreased oxygen level.
  • Travel to higher altitude slowly to allow your body to get used to the decreased oxygen level. Do not go up more than 300 meters daily when you are above 3000 meters. Every 2 to 3 days you should stop and rest for one full day. You may need to rest more often when you are above 4000 meters.
  • Travel higher during the day and sleep at lower altitudes at night to allow your body to adjust better. Pregnant women should not sleep higher than 3500 meters to prevent pregnancy problems. If you are pregnant, talk to your caregiver before going to high altitudes.
  • If you start to have symptoms of mountain sickness, rest for 24 hours or go down to a lower altitude. Do not continue traveling to higher altitudes until your symptoms improve.

For more information:

Contact the following:

  • International Society for Mountain Medicine
    P.O. Box 31142
    Colorado Springs , CO 80931-1142
    Web Address:


  • You have a fever.
  • You cannot stop vomiting (throwing up).
  • You feel weak or dizzy.
  • You have increased swelling in your face, hands, or feet.
  • You have questions about your mountain sickness or treatment.


  • You begin to have trouble walking.
  • Your lips, nails, or skin are very white or blue in color.
  • You have trouble breathing at rest, or you are taking more than 30 breaths each minute.
  • You have fainted (passed out), or had a seizure (convulsion).
  • You have a worsening cough, noisy breathing, or you cough up pink, foamy sputum (spit).
  • You have chest pain, strong, fast heartbeats, or you feel a flutter in your chest.
  • You have behavior changes or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there).
  • You have signs of a stroke: The following signs are an emergency. Call 911 immediately if you have any of the following:
    • Weakness or numbness in your arm, leg, or face (may be on only one side of your body)
    • Confusion and problems speaking or understanding speech
    • A very bad headache that may feel like the worst headache of your life
    • Not being able to see out of one or both of your eyes
    • Feeling too dizzy to stand

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Mountain Sickness (Discharge Care)

Micromedex® Care Notes