Altitude Sickness: Causes and Treatments


What Is Altitude Sickness?

You might not be familiar with altitude sickness if you haven’t had the need or adventurous luxury to reach high altitudes through activities such as climbing mountains. Some people go as high as between 8,000 feet and 18,000 feet while hiking mountains or flying in a plane. Some experience some symptoms of altitude sickness, while others don’t because they are naturally tolerant and can adapt easily to drastic changes in high altitudes. You too can improve your tolerance of high altitudes by training your body to adapt to natural remedies and diet.
Changes in the oxygen levels take place in the air as you ascend to high altitudes, and your body might struggle to get enough oxygen as a result. This is the major cause of altitude sickness.
Some symptoms of altitude sickness may present it as a mild reaction, but it can be a serious condition with severe consequences for its sufferer. Special care and precaution must be taken when challenged by altitude sickness. Some of the common symptoms of altitude sickness include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting

These symptoms are the more common and less severe ones, and they may occur as soon as you reach high altitudes, or they may come on later like subsequent side effects of climbing great heights. However, there are some symptoms that are more severe and dangerous. These symptoms include incessant coughing, coughing up blood or blood-stained phlegm, decreasing consciousness or unconsciousness, pale skin, and skin discoloration, dizziness, and confusion, tightness in the chest, losing balance and coordination, shortness of breath and difficulty in thinking clearly.

Types of Altitude Sickness

There are different types of altitude sickness, depending on the severity and nature of the condition. Here, we will identify three types of altitude sickness.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Acute Mountain Sickness is a common type of altitude sickness. It accounts for a greater percentage of altitude sickness cases, and its symptoms are similar to those of intoxication. Acute Mountain Sickness is the primary form of altitude sickness and is usually characterized by dizziness, nausea, and loss of balance.

High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

High-Altitude Cerebral Edema is a more severe form of Acute Mountain Sickness. Most times, this form of altitude sickness occurs after a case of acute altitude sickness persists for an extended period of time. High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) has a direct effect on the brain, as it is characterized by swelling of the brain and brain malfunction. There will be extended periods of irritability, drowsiness, uncoordinated body movement, headaches, and difficulty when thinking.

High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

The third type of altitude sickness is sometimes a worse regression from High-Altitude Cerebral Edema or an independently developing altitude sickness with the most devastating effects on the body. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema occurs when there is an excess build-up of fluid within the lungs, leading to a malfunction. The failure of the lungs to function normally will give rise to chronic symptoms of HAPE such as severe coughing, increased breathlessness, fatigue, and tightness in the chest. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema can be fatal and must be treated immediately by the provision of oxygen and leaving such high altitude as soon as possible.

Causes of Altitude Sickness

Climbing high altitudes is recognized as the sole cause of altitude sickness and the complications that follow it. However, there are some risk factors that can make the condition more severe and difficult to handle. As we have mentioned, you will most likely develop altitude sickness if your body has not been accustomed to reaching such high altitudes. Here are a few risk factors for suffering altitude sickness:

  • Rapidly ascending great heights
  • Climbing over 1,600 feet every day.
  • Previous incidents of suffering altitude sickness

How to Diagnose Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is just like every other form of sickness and medical condition, so you can get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. This diagnosis may involve you providing some information about the symptoms you experience at high altitudes, checking your vitals, and using a stethoscope to check your heartbeat in order to determine the level of fluid accumulation and shortness of breath. There may also be an x-ray examination to observe your lungs for signs of collapse and fluid content.
The outcome of the diagnosis will determine the kind of treatment that will be administered. For instance, if you are diagnosed with lung collapse or fluid accumulation in the lung, you must undergo immediate treatment which may include the provision of supplementary oxygen. Fluid accumulation and lung collapse can be life-threatening symptoms of altitude sickness; this is why quick detection through diagnosis and immediate medical care is important. Other symptoms of altitude sickness may not leave immediately; they will gradually leave under deliberate medical care. You can also train and prepare before ascending high altitudes in order to make yourself get used to it after some time.

Home Remedies to Reverse Altitude Sickness

We’ll be highlighting some natural altitude sickness remedy options which can help you to deal with the condition. Some of these remedies include essential oils, vitamins, lemon, ginger, coca leaves, pickle juice, and garlic.

Essential Oils

beauty oilSome types of essential oils can be very useful in relieving you of the symptoms of altitude sickness. Here are two of such essential oils.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil can reduce the severity of some effects of altitude sickness such as shortness of breath and nausea. This essential oil contains menthol which clears up the air pathways from your nostrils to your throat, making it easier to breathe.

  • Get a few drops of peppermint oil and a teaspoon of olive oil or any carrier oil of your choice.
  • Mix four drops of the peppermint oil and a teaspoon of the carrier oil properly, and rub this mixture on your temples and the back of your neck.
  • Dip a clean piece of a handkerchief in this peppermint oil mixture to inhale it occasionally after reaching high altitudes.
Lavender Oil

Here’s another type of oil you can use to overcome altitude sickness. You will need three drops of lavender oil and a teaspoon of carrier oil (olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil). You may choose to sniff this lavender oil mixture or apply it on your neck and temples as you climb high altitudes.
Lavender oil is also effective in easing nausea and headaches which are the more common effects of altitude sickness.


You can train your body to handle the quick changes experienced at high altitudes. Vitamins can be helpful in this regard, thanks to their antioxidant and body-building properties. Antioxidants enhance your body’s ability to take in oxygen even after reaching high altitudes. Vitamins C and E contain powerful antioxidants which will also strengthen your immune system.
Try consuming foods like spinach, citrus fruits, almonds, papaya, kale, and hazelnuts. You can also consume vitamins C and E supplements.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is derived from a citrus fruit that is effective in eliminating nausea. To prevent the nagging symptoms of altitude sickness, suck a piece of cut lemon fruit or sip on lemon juice as you climb up to high altitudes. You can make some lemon juice by squeezing half of a lemon fruit into a glass of water and add a pinch of salt, then mix them all before drinking. The extract of lemon will keep nausea, dizziness, and vomiting at bay.

Coca Leaves

Get some coca leaves and a little amount of lime juice ready. Mix the coca leaves in the lime juice and chew the completely soaked leaves as you climb places with high altitudes.
Coca leaves rejuvenate and awaken your senses, especially during demanding exercises; they can reduce your shortness of breath and irritability as quickly as possible.


gingerJust like lemon, ginger calms your body down to stop vomiting and nausea. You will need a couple of chopped pieces of ginger root or ginger tea. Chew some of the small pieces of chopped ginger or drink a cup of strong ginger tea as you climb a high altitude. You may also get a few ginger candies you can suck on when going up.

Pickle Juice

You can also sip on pickle juice from a small bottle as you make your ascent. This pickle juice can save you from dehydration and nausea as you climb higher. Its rich content of electrolytes provides your body with sodium and potassium which will keep you hydrated and prevent the mental exhaustion that comes with altitude sickness.


You may use garlic cloves the same way you use ginger to counter altitude sickness. Chew tiny bits of the peeled garlic cloves as you begin to reach higher altitudes. Consuming garlic can help restore proper blood flow within your body and allow normal circulation, despite high altitudes.

Altitude sickness can be mild, severe, quick, slow or persistent; whatever nature it takes, it isn’t pleasant. You can use one or two of the suggested remedies we’ve highlighted to keep you from this unpleasant condition. If you suffer from altitude sickness over a long period, then It’s best to see your doctor for a comprehensive check-up. Make healthy changes in your diet and engage in exercises as frequently as possible.