How to Prevent Altitude Sickness on Your Next Hike: 7 Simple Steps

how to prevent altitude sickness

Are you planning your first hiking trip to a high mountainous range? If so you will be met by some of the most gorgeous scenery that you’ve ever seen but while there is beauty in nature there is also danger. You will be vulnerable to many risks while you’re hiking.

The most common is altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness can not only put a hold on your trip but also be a deadly killer if you don’t take precaution.

Here are seven tips on how to prevent altitude sickness before your weekend hiking trip.

What Is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness describes the symptoms a person may feel when they attempt to ascend too quickly. It happens because as altitude increases, atmospheric pressure decreases. As a result, your body runs into difficulties getting oxygen and that makes your heart and lungs work in overtime.

When you start to feel these symptoms take precautionary measures.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Rapid pulse
  • Irrational behavior
  • Loss of balance
  • Migraine
  • Vomiting
  • A cough that won’t quit

1. Climb Slowly

You never want to start out by driving or flying straight to a high point. Your body needs at least three days of subtly getting higher and higher in order to get used to the changes.

Instead of going higher each day stop, find a place to camp, and continue on the next day. If you must fly or drive, stop at a low altitude for at least 24 hours. Try not to exceed traveling 1,000 feet each day.

2. Hydrate Yourself

When you reach altitude, make sure to drink 3 liters of water a day at least. Once you start hiking drink even more. The symptoms of altitude sickness are very close to dehydration so what you might think is one, it could the other. Either way, keep hydrated.

We all need our go-go juice in the mornings but coffee will actually dehydrate you so it should be avoided. Sadly, the same goes for any kind of alcohol. Stay clear at least for the first three days or so of your trip.

3. Get Plenty of Rest

Domestic and international travel can make you absolutely tuckered out and leave you dehydrated as quickly as coffee and alcohol. This will, you guessed it, will increase your chances of altitude sickness.

Before you begin your assent you should plan at least a day or two for your body to rest and get used to the new environment. This is especially important if you’re traveling internationally.

4. Climb High, Sleep Low

Climb high, sleep low refers to when you ascend to a high place during the day and descend to a lower one to sleep for the night. This is a smart move because your risk for altitude sickness increases during the night.

Plan to do this if you exceed 1,000 feet in one day especially if you’re new to altitude trekking.

5. Medications

Unfortunately, medication usually isn’t given before you head out on a trip unless driving for flying to a high altitude is inevitable. There are some rumors that if you take acetazolamide two days before your trip and during it you could prevent altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide is typically used to treat glaucoma but because of the way it works it can be used for this purpose as well. The bad news here is, you need a prescription from your doctor in order to have it.

Please note, acetazolamide isn’t a miracle drug. You can still get sick even after you take it. If you start showing symptoms no amount of medication can help you. You need to descend to a lower altitude right away and rest for a few days.

6. Eat Carbs

Usually, we are told that stuffing our face full of carbs is a bad thing but when you are ascending to large heights it’s actually not a horrible idea.

Before you start your trek, pack a few granola bars and other whole wheat snacks. This will keep you from getting sick and having something to munch on while you walk is a pretty good bonus, right?

7. Further Treatment

We’ve told you plenty about how to prevent altitude sickness but we haven’t told you much on what to do once it occurs. Take the following measures when you feel minor symptoms coming on.

Don’t descend any higher and drink a lot of water. At least 4 liters.

If you feel like a headache is coming on make sure to take something for it and lay down to rest. The symptoms should take two or three days to die down. Once they do, you are free to cautiously ascend again.

This will work for minor symptoms but as for stronger ones, not so much. If you start having unbearable issues do the following:

Descend by at least 500m immediately and seek medical attention right away. If the symptoms are severe any type of medication that you can take will be ineffective. Your only choice is to descend!

Learn How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is no joke. It can turn a fun, family excursion into a complete nightmare. You need to know how to prevent altitude sickness and treat the symptoms when they occur.

Don’t ignore the signs just because you don’t want to ruin everyone else’s fun. Laying down for 2 to 3 days is better than the alternative.

As you can see, vacations aren’t always fun and games. Visit our blog to read about safety precautions that you should take on your next trip away from home.