Alltitude Sickness – Causes and Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness occurs at higher altitudes where you cannot get enough oxygen. This can occur in healthy adults who are around 2,500m above the sea level. About one out of two people may develop altitude sickness. It usually affects mountain climbers, skiers, travellers at high altitude or hikers. It can also happen to those people who go to high altitudes though they are not used to climbing high. Altitude sickness is also called as acute mountain sickness.

What causes Altitude sickness?

  • The main cause of Acute mountain sickness is the combination of decreased concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere and reduced air pressure.
  • In some cases fluid gets collected in the lungs.
  • Swelling of the brain also occurs.
  • These causes confusion, coma and if not treated immediately can cause death.
  • The faster you climb to a high altitude, the chance of getting altitude sickness increases.
  • Air at higher altitudes is thinner and as a result the body demands more oxygen.
  • When oxygen does not reach the cells, the person suffers from altitude sickness.

What are the symptoms ?

The symptoms can be of two types. They are :

  1. Primary Symptoms
  2. Severe Symptoms

Primary Symptoms

The primary symptom is headache and the other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Insomnia
  • Nose bleeding
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheaded
  • Shortness of breath
  • Drowsiness
  • Peripheral edema
  • Rapid Pulse rate
  • General Malaise
  • Bluish color discoloration of the skin(cyanosis)

Severe Symptoms

Symptoms that may be very fatal include:

  • Collection of fluid in the lungs(pulmonary edema)
  • Persistent cough
  • Fever
  • When resting shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the brain
  • Headache
  • Unsteady gait
  • Retinal hemorrhage(Tiny blood blisters at the back of the eye)
  • Gradual loss of consciousness
  • Increased nausea
  • Confused
  • Blurred vision
  • Hallucinate
  • Lose coordination
  • High altitudes may cause slight swelling of the face, legs or arms
  • Coughing blood


If you have these symptoms, you should slowly descend to a lower altitude and seek emergency medical help before your condition worsens.

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