Woman in the mountain

What is Altitude Sickness?

If you’re planning a trip to a high-altitude environment, you may have heard about ‘altitude sickness’. This temporary condition can derail trips for work or leisure to high-altitude environments, so let’s talk about what altitude sickness is and how to prevent it.

What Is Altitude Sickness?



Altitude sickness, also called high-altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness, is a temporary condition that can develop in individuals who travel to high altitude environments. This condition happens when a person exerts themselves at a higher altitude than they are accustomed to before acclimating to the environment.

Why do high altitudes affect the body? There are lower oxygen levels and lower air pressure at high altitude levels. Even though your body increases your breathing and heart rate to oxygenate your blood, your body is still working with less oxygen than it is used to. When your blood oxygen levels become too low, you can develop altitude sickness.

The biggest risk factor for altitude sickness is your rate of ascent compared to your overall altitude. People who have previously had altitude sickness are at a higher risk of developing this condition. People who live at lower elevations are also at a higher risk.

What are the First Signs of Altitude Sickness?

IV hydration and altitude sickness woman backpacking through Colorado

IV hydration and altitude sickness woman backpacking through Colorado

Altitude sickness is brought on by traveling to a high altitude too quickly. The best thing you can do when you notice symptoms is to stop your ascent and give your body time to adjust since your cardiovascular system quickly adapts to low-oxygen environments. So, what are the first signs of altitude sickness?

There are many ways that acute (sudden and temporary) mountain sickness can manifest, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

  • Mild altitude sickness is characterized by nausea and/or vomiting, headache, fatigue, a lack of appetite, weakness, and insomnia. These symptoms generally go away on their own within a couple of days.
  • Moderate altitude sickness includes the same symptoms as mild; however, they may not improve with medication. Moderate mountain sickness can also include symptoms such as disorientation and ataxia (a decrease in or loss of coordination).
  • Severe altitude sickness includes conditions such as high-altitude pulmonary edema (where fluid gathers in the lungs) and high-altitude cerebral edema (where fluid gathers on the brain). Both of these types of altitude sickness require an immediate descent as well as medical attention. Severe altitude sickness is characterized by a shortness of breath at rest, coughing, a bluish skin color, frothy and/or bloody sputum (mucus from the lungs), confusion, or loss of consciousness.

Most people’s symptoms start mild, so if you notice that you feel nauseous or short of breath, have a headache, or feel unusually fatigued, pause what you’re doing and give your body a break. Mild altitude sickness generally resolves on its own within a couple of days.

If you have severe symptoms, you need to descent immediately. A person whose symptoms are mild but do not improve with rest must also promptly descend to a lower altitude. Low blood oxygen can contribute to more problems than just altitude sickness. You can learn more about how low blood oxygen affects the body here.

Treating Altitude Sickness

man lying on a highway between mountains

man lying on a highway between mountains

What is the best remedy for altitude sickness? Stop what you’re doing and rest. That’s it. Your symptoms will go away on their own with some time. But rest isn’t the only way to treat altitude sickness. These tips can help you get back on your feet fast.

  • Rest! We can’t say it enough.
  • Avoid alcohol during recovery just like you would with any other illness.
  • Don’t overexert yourself while you are recovering, since doing so can make symptoms worse and prolong your recovery.
  • Over-the-counter altitude sickness medications such as Diamox can help improve your symptoms. If you don’t have these medications, painkillers and anti-nausea medication can help improve your symptoms while you rest.
  • If your symptoms are severe, it’s important to descend to a lower altitude and seek medical attention promptly.
  • If your symptoms are mild but do not improve with rest, descend to a lower altitude.
  • When it comes to altitude sickness prevention, planning your trip with enough time to get acclimated to the environment is your best bet. Ginkgo Biloba supplements may also reduce your risk of developing acute mountain sickness, but the evidence here is inconclusive.

Altitude Sickness Prevention

man on a mountain with map in his hands

man on a mountain with map in his hands

Benjamin Franklin once said that ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. He may not have been talking about altitude sickness, but his truism is correct all the same. By preventing altitude sickness, you don’t have to take time out of work or play to recover. So, how do you do this?

The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to ascend gradually to high altitudes. Plan your trip so that you give yourself time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels in the mountains. Staying hydrated and avoiding (or at least reducing) alcohol can also help your body adjust to the climate faster and avoid unwanted symptoms.

IV Hydration for Altitude Sickness

Mobile IV hydration with Drip Hydration is a fast and effective way to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness in your home, office, or hotel AirBnB in Denver.

Why IV hydration? No one wants to drink a full glass of water when they’re feeling nauseous from altitude sickness. IV therapy bypasses your stomach since it is administered directly into your bloodstream so that you can rehydrate without having to upset your stomach further.

Although IV hydration may not be able to prevent altitude sickness, it can help you recover faster and improve how you feel. Drip Hydration offers IV add-ons such as anti-nausea and anti-inflammatory medications to help improve your symptoms and your comfort. Many of our IV formulas contain essential vitamins to boost your immune system’s function, helping you feel your best and stay healthy for your trip.