How to Prepare for High Altitude

Co-authored by wikiHow Staff

Updated: January 13, 2020

High altitude locations are some of the most beautiful and popular places to travel for vacation and work alike. However, about 20 to 50% of people who travel to high altitudes experience 1 or more of the common side effects of altitude sickness. By planning your trip, acclimating to the elevation, and properly dealing with altitude sickness, you can enjoy your time up high.

Method 1 of 3:
Planning Your Trip

  1. 1
    Plan your ascent into high altitude ahead of time. One of the most important things to do to prepare to enter a higher altitude is to schedule your ascent ahead of time so you can build in time for your body to acclimate and adjust.[1] If you are able to spend a day or two at a more moderate elevation (under 18,000 feet (5,500?m)), you can give your body a chance to adjust to the higher altitude before ascending further, or give any side effects you may experience time to subside.
    • In most minor cases, people only experience side effects for the first 1 to 2 days after arriving at a higher elevation.
    • About 20% of people who travel to altitudes between 5,000 feet (1,500?m) and 18,000 feet (5,500?m) experience side effects. This number increases to about 50%, however, in altitudes higher than 18,000 feet (5,500?m).
  2. 2
    Hydrate well before entering a higher altitude. Arguably the easiest way to help you prepare for high altitude is to drink plenty of water before you travel, as well as during your ascent into a higher altitude.[2] Drinking at least 2 litres (0.53?US?gal) of water in the days before your trip can help your body adjust to the high altitude quicker and ward off some of the unpleasant side effects.
    • To help you keep hydrating while traveling, bring a large water bottle with you. Try to keep track of how much water you are drinking and refill the bottle as frequently as you are able to.
  3. 3
    Get plenty of sleep before ascending into higher altitudes. Being well rested is an important factor in helping you both avoid and get over the side effects of high altitude. In many cases, however, traveling can interrupt your sleep schedule. While you may not be able to avoid the impact of travel on your sleep schedule, you can make sure that you can plenty of sleep in the days leading up to your ascent into a higher altitude.[3]
    • Try to get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep in the days leading up to your trip into a higher altitude.
  4. 4
    Avoid caffeine and alcohol for at least 1 day in advance. Drinking alcohol and caffeine in the days before you travel, as well as once you are traveling, can dehydrate your body, impact your ability to sleep well, and weaken your ability to fight any symptoms of altitude sickness.[4] As a result, try to avoid consuming any caffeine or alcohol for at least 1 day before you travel, as well as while you are traveling.
    • If you do choose to consume caffeine or alcohol while preparing for high altitude, make sure that you drink plenty of water to try to offset some of the negative effects.
  5. 5
    Train if you plan to do any rigorous physical activity. If you plan on hiking, mountain biking, or doing any other physical activity once you arrive in a higher altitude, training accordingly can help your body ward off or bounce back quicker from altitude-related illness. While even professional athletes can suffer from the effects of high altitude, your body will be able to perform under the added stress of high altitude if you are physically ready for the activity at hand.[5]
    • If you plan to go hiking, for example, try doing several hikes near where you live. This can help you get in the physical condition needed to complete the hike while getting your body used to the ascent into a higher altitude.
  6. 6
    Get a prescription to help you adjust to the elevation (optional). While most people can acclimate to higher altitude naturally with a bit of preparation and time, there are prescription medications that you can get before you leave that will help your body adjust more quickly. If you know that you won’t be able to schedule adequate time to acclimate, or if you have experienced severe altitude sickness before, talk to your doctor about possibly getting a prescription medication to help you when you travel.[6]
    • Acetazolamide and dexamethasone are both prescription medications that you can take before and during your travel to a higher altitude.[7]
  7. 7
    Buy a supplemental oxygen can to help you avoid side effects (optional). Once you are in a high altitude, you can help avoid or alleviate symptoms of altitude sickness by purchasing a personal oxygen can.[8] Oxygen cans are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and are readily available online and in pharmacies, grocery stores, and outdoor supply stores that are in higher altitude locations.
    • Many hotels and outdoor sporting companies in higher altitudes will also have a supplemental oxygen source on-hand.[9]

Method 2 of 3:
Acclimating to the Elevation

  1. 1
    Ascend into higher altitudes slowly so your body can adjust. Once you are in a higher altitude, try to give your body time to acclimate to the increase in elevation. The likelihood that you will suffer from side effects increases with every increase in elevation. You can try to offset this, however, by spending a day or so at each high altitude elevation before ascending higher.[10]
  2. 2
    Avoid ascending more than 500 metres (1,600?ft) per day. To help give your body time to acclimate to the elevation, try to avoid ascending more than 500 metres (1,600?ft) per day.[11] This will help you prevent altitude sickness and therefore, enjoy your trip much more.
    • If you are particularly sensitive to higher altitude, you may want to avoid ascending more than 300 metres (980?ft) per day.
  3. 3
    Eat and drink water frequently to avoid altitude sickness. Staying hydrated and well-nourished can help you ward off many of the unpleasant side effects of high altitude, such as dizziness and headaches.[12] Try to eat at least 3 healthy meals per day, and keep snacks and a water bottle with you at all times until you are sure that your body has acclimated.
    • Granola bars are a great option for a quick and easy snack to have on-hand.
  4. 4
    Steer clear of strenuous exercise for about 1 day. After arriving in a higher altitude, try to avoid any strenuous exercise for the first 24 hours. This will give your body time to adjust to the elevation. If you push yourself too hard before your body has acclimated, there is a good chance that you will experience some of the symptoms of altitude sickness.[13]

Method 3 of 3:
Dealing with Altitude Sickness

  1. 1
    Stop ascending until your symptoms have subsided. If you experience any of the symptoms of altitude sickness, avoid ascending to a higher elevation. If your symptoms are mild, you can usually wait for your body to acclimate to your current altitude and then proceed with your ascent.[14] If your symptoms are severe and persistent, however, you will likely need to descend and in some cases, seek medical attention.
    • Common symptoms of altitude sickness include dizziness, headache, vomiting, swelling, slightly elevated heart rate, temporary shortness of breath, coughing, congestion, and trouble walking.[15]
    • If your symptoms are mild and temporary, you can likely proceed with your ascent after 24 to 48 hours.[16]
    • If any of the common symptoms of altitude sickness are prolonged (more than 1 to 2 days) or particularly painful or uncomfortable, they should be considered severe.
    • Additional severe symptoms of altitude sickness include a high altitude cerebral edema, pulmonary edema, and blurred vision.[17]
  2. 2
    Eat and drink water to help your symptoms subside. If you are suffering from altitude sickness, hydrating consistently and eating a substantial meal or snack can help you begin to acclimate.[18] Even if you feel nauseous, it is important that you try to eat and drink water as often as you can in order to feel better quickly.
  3. 3
    Move to a lower altitude if your symptoms are persistent or severe. If your altitude sickness is persistent, severe, or gets worse over time, descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.[19] Your symptoms should begin to subside as you descend.
    • If your symptoms don’t begin subside after you descend, you may need to seek medical attention.
  4. 4
    Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to help with side effects. If you experience some of the side effects of high altitude despite your preparation, it can be helpful for you to have some over-the-counter pain relievers on hand.[20] Pain relievers like aspirin should be taken sparingly and in consultation with your doctor or pharmacist, however, as they will only treat the symptoms but do not help your body adjust or improve your oxygenation.[21]
  5. 5
    Take a prescription medication to help alleviate your symptoms quickly. If you got a prescription for acetazolamide or dexamethasone, you can take either of these medications to help your body adjust to the elevation.[22] By helping your body adjust to the elevation, these medications can help alleviate your symptoms and get over your altitude sickness more quickly.
  6. 6
    Use supplemental oxygen to relieve your altitude sickness. If you purchased an oxygen can prior to your ascent, you can use it as directed to help alleviate your altitude sickness. If you don’t have a personal oxygen can, you may be able to get supplemental oxygen from a hotel, sporting company, emergency relief officials, or medical facility.[23]

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      About This Article

      Co-Authored By:
      wikiHow Staff Editor
      This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Together, they cited information from 23 references.
      6 votes - 50%
      Co-authors: 5
      Updated: January 13, 2020
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