What is Mountain Sickness? Symptoms and Treatment

People who travel to high altitudes, such as mountaineers and skiers, may experience what is called acute mountain sickness. It usually occurs at altitudes of 2500 meters or higher above sea level. It can be seen in 20% of those who go above 2500 meters and in 40% of those who go above 3000 meters. It can give symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, headache, shortness of breath. Most of the time, the symptoms are mild and get better quickly. However, rarely, mountain or high altitude sickness can be severe and cause complications on the lungs and brain.

Why Does It Happen?

At higher altitudes, air pressure and oxygen levels decrease. Although the oxygen rate of 21% in the air remains the same, the amount of oxygen that can be taken with each breath decreases as the air becomes thinner. The increase in the amount of water lost by evaporation from the lungs at high altitude may also contribute to acute mountain sickness. The body may not have enough time to get used to the new environment when going to high altitudes by plane or automobile, or when hiking, mountaineering or skiing on a mountain. The degree of physical exertion of the person also plays a role in the development of acute mountain sickness.

Acute Mountain Sickness Symptoms

Symptoms may appear within hours of reaching high altitude. The degree of the problem varies according to the situation of the person.

Mild symptoms of acute mountain sickness: Dizziness, headache, muscle aches, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, loss of appetite, sweating in hands, feet and face, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath with physical activity.

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Symptoms of severe acute mountain sickness: If acute mountain sickness is severe, it can affect the heart, lungs, muscles and nervous system. For example, cerebral edema , pulmonary edema may occur. There may be symptoms such as coughing, water collection in the lungs, pale skin, inability to walk, loss of balance, and introversion. In case of symptoms indicating severe disease, 112 should be called without wasting time.

Who Happens?

Those who live by the sea or in low altitude areas and those who suddenly go to higher altitudes are at risk. Heavy physical movements that force the body at high altitude, very high altitude, climbing to this height in a short time, having anemia, heart or lung disease, using sleeping pills, tranquilizers or narcotic pain medications that can slow breathing rate, previously acute Mountain sickness is one of the risk factors. People with risk factor disease or using the specified drugs should consult their doctor before ascending to high altitudes.


Acute mountain sickness is suspected in people who have climbed to high altitudes and have related complaints. Listening to the lungs with a stethoscope can show whether pulmonary edema is present.


If there is pulmonary or brain edema, hospitalization may be required. In mild cases, simply returning to low altitude and resting may be sufficient. Complaints regress within a few hours, sometimes they may continue for a day or two. Various medications can be used to reduce shortness of breath, headache, pulmonary and brain edema. In severe cases, if cerebral edema progresses, the person may go into a coma and even lead to death. To prevent this, it is necessary to notice the symptoms early and intervene before the process progresses.

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Before climbing to a high altitude, resting for a day, allowing time for the body’s adaptation, drinking plenty of water are protective measures. Acute mountain sickness can be avoided by not climbing more than 300 meters per day. Being physically fit does not reduce the risk.

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