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Mountain Sickness (cont.)

Do I need to follow-up with a doctor after an episode of altitude sickness?

Mild acute mountain sickness that resolves quickly usually does not need require follow-up with a health-care professional. However, if one is seen, proceed with the following instructions:

  • Follow instructions regarding activity limitation, use of additional oxygen, postponement of climbing, or immediate descent, if required.
  • Take medications as prescribed.
  • Do not drink alcohol, and avoid smoking tobacco especially while at a high altitude.
  • Keep any follow-up appointments.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms worsen or if new symptoms develop.

Can altitude sickness be prevented?

Altitude sickness is preventable. The body needs time to adjust to high altitude. Physical conditioning has no bearing on this. So everyone, including children and infants, may be at some risk when ascending to higher altitudes.

  • For people who do not know the rate at which their bodies adjust to high altitude, the following preventive measures are recommended.
    • If traveling by air to a ski area above 8,250 feet (2,500 meters), incorporate a layover of 1-2 days at an intermediate altitude.
    • Avoid physical exertion for the first 24 hours.
    • Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid alcoholic beverages.
    • Consume a high-carbohydrate diet.
    • If mountain climbing or hiking, ascend gradually once past 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level.
    • Increase the sleeping altitude by no more than 1,000 feet (300 meters) per 24 hours. The mountaineer's rule is "climb high, sleep low." This means that on layover days, a climber can ascend to a higher elevation during the day and return to a lower sleeping elevation at night. This helps to hasten acclimatization.
  • The doctor may prescribe acetazolamide (Diamox) to prevent acute altitude sickness. This medication speeds acclimatization.
  • If rapid ascent is unavoidable, as in rescue missions, or if a person is prone to developing high-altitude pulmonary edema, the doctor may also prescribe nifedipine (Procardia). Nifedipine is normally used to treat high blood pressure.
  • Prevention of high-altitude cerebral edema and/or high-altitude cerebral edema is the same as for acute altitude sickness.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/15/2015

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