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Altitude Sickness

Consultation & treatments

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UK-based GMC registered GPs

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Our UK-based, GMC-registered GPs will review your details and if appropriate can provide prescription treatments for Altitude Sickness.

Altitude sickness

Altitude sickness is a common condition that can occur when you climb too quickly to heights that you are not used to. As you climb the atmospheric pressure drops and the level of oxygen in the air falls, making effective breathing more difficult. In most cases, symptoms are mild and the most common symptom is a headache. Other mild symptoms include nausea, dizziness, exhaustion and difficulty sleeping. In some cases, altitude sickness can become very serious and lead to death. Serious symptoms include confusion and loss of consciousness, fitting, bubbling sounds in the chest and coughing up pink frothy liquid. These symptoms require immediate removal to low altitude and emergency medical attention.

Causes of altitude sickness

The most important way to avoid altitude sickness is to allow the body time to acclimatise once you reach around 2500m above sea level. It normally takes a few days to allow your body to adjust. After that it’s important to ascend slowly so above 3000m, it's best to ascend no more than 300-500m each day, allowing a night’s sleep at the new level to acclimatise. The higher you go, the more likely you are to experience severe symptoms.

Ensuring that you remain fully hydrated is also important. As a result, it’s best to avoid alcohol at high altitudes.

Altitude sickness treatments

If you experience mild symptoms you should not climb higher for 24-48 hours until you have acclimatised. If your symptoms worsen or do not improve, then it is advisable to descend by at least 500m. Serious symptoms require immediate removal to low altitude and emergency medical attention. Studies have shown that acetazolamide (also known as Diamox) can help reduce the severity of altitude sickness symptoms and can also help prevent the condition. It is only available on prescription from a doctor but is not licenced for altitude sickness. It is important to recognise that use of acetazolamide is NOT A SUBSTITUTE for correct acclimatisation and it will not protect you from severe altitude sickness unless you allow suitable acclimatisation. Acetazolamide is normally taken twice a day for two days before you start to climb and whilst you are climbing. There are also medicines such as Avomine and Buccastem that can help with nausea that can be a symptom of altitude sickness. These can be purchased without a prescription – just follow the links provided above – or the online doctor can also prescribe Prochlorperazine buccal tablets if you undertake an online consultation for altitude sickness.

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