Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Altitude sickness is preventable. The body needs time to adjust to high altitude. Physical conditioning has no bearing on this.
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 HAPE, the doctor may also prescribe nifedipine (Procardia). Nifedipine is normally used to treat high blood pressure.
Prevention of high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) is the same as for acute altitude sickness.