Treatment for Altitude Sickness

The higher in elevation one travels, the less oxygen is contained in the air you breathe. This may cause a myriad of medical conditions ranging from a mild headache to death. Those who conquer the ascent slowly see fewer symptoms than those who climb too fast. Altitude sickness includes a spectrum of conditions from Acute Mountain Sickness (feels like a hangover), to the life threatening conditions caused by swelling of the brain and lungs.

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lethargy, dizziness, sleeplessness
Who is at risk?

Anyone over 2,500 meters should stay well hydrated and watch for symptoms. Whether skiing, mountain climbing or flying to higher altitudes, take preventive measures.


It’s smarter to prevent mountain sickness than to take your chances and treat it later. Once symptoms have set in, reduce altitude (which results in more oxygen in the air) and drink water. Acetaminophen may reduce the headache, but it won’t cure the symptoms. When more severe symptoms appear, it becomes necessary to involve a physician who can prescribe something for nausea, headache and sleep. In severe cases that progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), the physician can administer oxygen by mask or through treatment in a hyperbaric chamber and prescribe medication to treat swelling in the brain and lungs. These are life-threatening emergencies.

Emergency Warning Signs: When should I see a doctor?

Seek emergency medical help if the patient develops a severe headache or difficulty breathing. These are signs of life-threatening edema (swelling) of the brain and or the lungs.

For more information on altitude sickness, see the following websites:

eMedicineHealth Overview on Mountain Sickness

Medline Plus (NIH) Review of Acute Mountain Sickness

Disclaimer: The links above are to sites independent of The pages will open in a new browser window. The information provided is for educational purposes only, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding your specific medical questions, treatments, therapies, and other needs.