Altitude Sickness

SafeGard Travel Medicine physicians generally recommend medications for altitude sickness for travelers who will be traveling to an altitude of 6000 ft or more. The travel pharmacies we work with provide these medications.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is an illness caused by ascent to high altitudes which may result in a shortage of oxygen to the body. It affects 25% of all travelers sleeping above 8000 ft, though some persons may be affected at altitudes as low as 6000 ft. There can be three stages to the progression of altitude sickness, beginning with acute mountain sickness which manifests itself with the cardinal symptom of a headache, accompanied with possible loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. This generally occurs 2-12 hours after arrival and lasts 12-48 hours before acclimatization. Although rare, severe progression of altitude sickness can result in swelling in and around the brain and/or lungs evidenced by profound lethargy or increasing beathlessness. Oxygen or immediate descend can be life-saving.

How can I prevent altitude sickness?

Acclimatization is important in preventing altitude sickness. A gradual ascent is recommended. If abrupt ascent is unavoidable, consider taking the medications our physician will recommend for your trip. You should avoid alcohol for the first 48 hours after ascent.

Who should get the medication?

If your trip will take you above 6000 ft, our physician may recommend altitude sickness medications. Common high-altitude destinations include Cusco, Peru; La Paz, Bolivia; Lhasa in Tibet; Everest Base Camp; and Kilmanjaro, Tanzania. Travelers who plan to go to high altitudes who have certain preexisting medical conditions may need to first consult with their primary care provider.