Our Complete Guide to Altitude Sickness in Nepal
Altitude Sickness in Nepal High Mountains

Let the views take your breath away – not the high altitude! In this blog, we’ll explain all you need to know about altitude sickness in Nepal, including what symptoms to look out for and how you can prevent it. This simple knowledge could save your life.

Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of their age, trekking experience or level of fitness. It’s one of the top concerns people share about trekking Nepal and it’s a valid concern. Unless you live at a very high altitude, our bodies are not acclimatised to the lack of oxygen in the high mountain air. Ascending too fast can cause problems. If symptoms of altitude sickness in Nepal (or anywhere else) are not addressed quickly, they can be extremely dangerous.

All our itineraries allow enough time for you to safely acclimatise. However, there are also things that you can do to support your own acclimatisation. If you know what symptoms to look out for, you can act quickly with the help of your trekking guide and avoid danger.

Important Disclaimer!

You won’t find any medical experts at Nepalorama, just passionate trekkers! The information in this blog is designed purely to help you build your knowledge of altitude sickness and its symptoms so you can identify it quickly and tell your trekking guide.

This information does not replace professional advice in any way. We strongly recommend that you discuss any concerns you have with your own medical professional before you travel to Nepal.

Altitude Sickness in Nepal

What is Altitude Sickness?

Altitude sickness, also called Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), makes breathing difficult because you aren’t able to take in as much oxygen. The higher the altitude, the less oxygen in the air.

Altitude sickness can occur when you travel to a high altitude too quickly. It’s more likely to affect people above 2,500m/8,200ft. Most of our treks climb to at least 4,000m/13,000ft, so there’s an element of risk.

Your level of physical fitness, age, sex and even your previous experience at high altitude have no connection to your chance of getting altitude sickness in Nepal. It really can affect anyone.

If symptoms of altitude sickness are ignored, they can become life threatening. Every year people die of altitude sickness, in Nepal and around the world. All these deaths are preventable.

The Golden Rules of Altitude Sickness

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Symptoms of altitude sickness usually develop between 6 and 24 hours after reaching altitudes higher than 2,500m/8,200ft above sea level.

There are three different types of altitude sickness:

  1. Mild altitude sickness called acute mountain sickness (AMS).
  2. High altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE).
  3. High altitude cerebral oedema (HACE).

If symptoms of mild altitude sickness (AMS) are ignored, they can lead to life-threatening conditions that affect the brain (HACE) or lungs (HAPE).

AMS – Remember These Symptoms!

It’s really important to know the symptoms of AMS, to help you identify them early in yourself and in others.

The symptoms described below are similar to those of a bad hangover (when you’ve drunk too much alcohol). Symptoms are usually worse at night.

  • headache
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • tiredness
  • loss of appetite
  • shortness of breath.

If you experience any of these symptoms or notice a friend who seems unwell, you must tell your trekking guide immediately.

In the rare event that symptoms of AMS are completely ignored, the very serious medical conditions HACE and HAPE can quickly develop. So, it’s worth knowing these symptoms too, just in case.

HACE

If symptoms of mild altitude sickness are ignored, a swelling in the brain can occur due to lack of oxygen. This condition can develop quickly over just a few hours and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of HACE:

  • headache
  • weakness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • loss of co-ordination
  • feeling confused
  • hallucinations.

A person with HACE often doesn’t realise they’re ill, and may insist that they’re ok and want to be left alone. If not treated immediately, HACE can be fatal.

If you experience any of these symptoms or notice a friend displaying these symptoms, you must tell your trekking guide immediately.

HAPE

If symptoms of mild altitude sickness are ignored, fluid can build up on the lungs. This condition can start to appear a few days after arrival at high altitude. If not treated immediately, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of HAPE:

  • blue tinge to the skin
  • breathing difficulties, even when resting
  • tightness in the chest
  • a persistent cough, bringing up pink or white frothy liquid
  • tiredness and weakness.

If you experience any of these symptoms or notice a friend displaying these symptoms, you must tell your trekking guide immediately.

Altitude Sickness in Nepal: Everest View Trek

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

The best way to prevent altitude sickness in Nepal is to travel to altitudes above 2,500m/8,200ft slowly, to allow your body time to acclimatise.

All our itineraries allow enough time for you to safely acclimatise. It’s unsafe to ascend more than 300-500m/1000-1600ft per day (between sleeps), so some walking days will be shorter than others.

Our challenging treks including Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit have rest days built in. It doesn’t mean we actually rest! It’s good for your acclimatisation to ascend to a higher altitude during the day and return to a lower altitude to sleep. We include some amazing day treks in these itineraries and return to sleep in the same place.

What YOU Can Do to Prevent Altitude Sickness

There are several simple things that you can do to reduce your chance of getting altitude sickness in Nepal. We strongly recommend that you take these things seriously:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Eat a light but high calorie diet
  • Avoid smoking.

Altitude Sickness in Nepal: Drink lots of Water

Medication to Prevent Altitude Sickness

Medication exists called Acetazolamide, commonly known by its trade name Diamox. It’s used for the treatment and prevention of altitude sickness.

Acetazolamide can help prevent symptoms by helping you adjust more quickly to high altitudes. You can start taking this medication 1-2 days before you start to travel to a high altitude (above 2,500m/8,200ft). However, it’s important that you also take the other precautions we’ve mentioned to support your safe acclimatisation.

We’re unable to provide this, as it’s a prescription medicine. If you’re interested in taking this medication, either as a preventative or to have in the event of altitude sickness symptoms, please speak with your doctor, local travel clinic, or medical professional before you leave home.

Treating Altitude Sickness

If you experience any symptoms of altitude sickness in Nepal or notice a friend who seems unwell, you must tell your trekking guide immediately.

Your guide will assess the situation and make a decision quickly. If your symptoms are very mild, your guide will recommend that you rest where you are and not ascend higher. If your symptoms don’t improve, you’ll need to descend to a lower altitude. Your guide will make arrangements for you to be accompanied if you’re trekking with a group.

You can take ibuprofen or paracetamol for a headache, but be sure to tell your guide so that he can keep monitoring you. Also:

  • Make sure you’re drinking enough water
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking
  • Avoid exercise, just rest.

Comprehensive Travel Insurance

Altitude sickness in Nepal: Travel InsuranceIn extreme cases, your guide may feel it’s necessary to get you to a hospital as quickly as possible.

We don’t take risks. That’s why we strongly recommend that you purchase comprehensive travel insurance to cover your trip in Nepal.

Your policy should include helicopter evacuation above the highest altitude on your trek (e.g. above 4,130m/13,600ft for Annapurna Base Camp). We’ve had to evacuate clients by helicopter before, it’s not uncommon.

If you send a copy of your insurance certificate to us before you trek, we can take immediate action in the event of an emergency.

Don’t Let Altitude Sickness in Nepal Put You Off!

Phew – this was a pretty heavy going blog! But as long as you have a basic understanding of altitude sickness, know the symptoms to look out for and follow the golden rules, you’ll be just fine! Remember, all deaths are preventable.

Now you’ve got the information you need to stay safe and effectively deal with altitude sickness in Nepal – if you need to.

The Golden Rules of Altitude Sickness

Reference Sources

altitude.org

NHS UK – Altitude Sickness