What is Altitude Sickness?

Planning to trek the Inca trail to Machhu Pichu? Or perhaps you are braving the heights of Everest Base Camp. Whatever you are doing, don’t let altitude sickness get in the way of your amazing trekking adventures. Obviously, we can’t tell you exactly how to prevent it, but we can give you a little insight on what it is about based on our experiences here at Aspiring Backpacker.

So what exactly is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness can also be referred to as mountain sickness. It occurs when there is a lack of oxygen in the air at various altitudes. The higher you get or climb the higher chance there is of getting it.

What are the symptoms?

There are various symptoms of altitude sickness and they vary from person to person, the level of which can be from mild to severe. The most common symptoms are a throbbing headache, feeling lethargic, dizzy, out of breath constantly and nausea.

Altitude Sickness
Deal with this…..


Who can get Altitude sickness?

The annoying thing is anyone can get altitude sickness! There are many misconceptions that if you are fit, regularly exercise and are generally healthy you will be okay. However the fittest, healthiest people can still be affected and unfortunately it’s not something that can be predicted. Some people are affected more than others, some people don’t feel the effects etc.

The rate at which a person ascends and the length of time spent at high altitudes also depends on this.

How can Altitude sickness be prevented?

So anyone can get it but what are the best ways to prevent altitude sickness? If you haven’t already, you will soon hear the term “acclimatize”. Acclimatization is when a person adapts to a new environment. For example, if you plan to trek the wondrous Inca Trail, you shouldn’t just start the Trek on day 1 after getting off the plane. You must first acclimatize in the city of Cuzco to gradually get your body ready for the climate and then begin your trek a couple of days after by slowly working your way up to higher altitudes each day. It’s the same when you go to Tibet and move on to higher ground such as Lake Namtso which is 5000m above sea level.

When acclimatizing at a high altitude it is important to not over exert yourself, get lots of rest and drink plenty of water. Alcohol and smoking should be avoided too.

If you visit your local GP there is medication that can be administered to aid in prevention, but since we are not qualified professionals we’ll leave that part up to the docs J IF you’re worried about altitude sickness, it’s definitely worth seeing the GP so he can alleviate any fears you may have.

Would I need to end my trek if I get it?

Absolutely not- though this will depend solely on the severity in each case. Usually when altitude sickness hits, one would stop and take it easy at their own pace ensuring that they are not engaging in something that is too strenuous. At other times, the person may descend until they feel better and then continue. I remember my fiancé telling me when she was on the Inca Trail she was told to chew on a coco leaf which seemed to do the trick for her!


Machu Picchu View
…So you can see this!!


Another important point to remember…..

Don’t feel bad if your tour group are all ahead of you on your amazing trek and you are an hour behind. It is important to go at your own rate and with what you’re comfortable with.  Make sure you listen to the guide as they are usually locals and have probably come across thousands of people like yourself, definitely being able to help you should you get ill. Don’t forget to stop and soak in the fantastic views – Altitude sickness or not it’s something you’ll be sure to remember for the rest of your life.

    1.  That will be awesome if you can do Everest Base Camp!! Make sure you go prepared just in case – fingers crossed you wont get any altitude sickness 🙂

      1. Well we got the prescription altitude sickness medicine while we still had health insurance so hopefully we can use that if we need it but yes definitely keeping our fingers crossed! 

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