Staying at high altitude

Latest update: - Authors: Mieke Croughs, Ula Maniewski-Kelner

The  air pressure - and as a result the  oxygen pressure-  is much lower  at high altitude:

  • The body needs time to adjust to the low oxygen pressure. Symptoms of normal adjustment include deeper breathing, shortness of breath with exertion and more frequent urination.
  • Exertion, such as walking, requires more effort.
  • Inadequate adjustment to the altitude, as a result of ascending too quickly, causes altitude sickness.
  • People with health conditions can experience serious problems as a result of the low oxygen pressure.

Sleeping is more problematic. A cyclic breathing pattern can occur during sleep. The person will breathe very deeply and then stop breathing briefly. This is not dangerous and disappears without treatment when the person descends.

The air is dryer, which often causes irritation of the eyes and the airways. This can cause a dry, tickling cough, a sore throat and migraine.

Medical assistance is often hard to find in areas of high altitude.   

Prevention

Speak to a doctor

If you have any health issues, first discuss with your physician whether it is wise to visit high altitude areas.

Take it slow

Do not climb to a high altitude too quickly and take it easy, particularly the first few days.

Sun protection

The UV radiation is stronger, which increases the risk of sunburn and eye problems. Protect yourself against the sun with a high factor sun and lip cream, a hat and good sunglasses.

Lenses

Take prescription glasses with you if you wear lenses.

Temperature

Hypothermia and dehydration are also more common at high altitude. The weather is less predictable and can change suddenly. 

Take clothing that is warm enough and take rain gear with you.

Drink sufficient water to prevent dehydration. Your urine must remain light-coloured.

Menstruation

Take into consideration that your normal hormonal cycle may be disrupted at high altitude. Your menstruation may start sooner than expected.

Altitude sickness

Implement the measures to prevent altitude sickness.

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