For most people, altitude sickness is an unpleasant, and sometimes vacation ruining experience, that can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue and loss of appetite. However, in some people, it can become life-threatening. In the worst cases, cerebral edema (swelling caused by water retention), pulmonary edema, confusion, impaired coordination, blood clots and pulmonary embolism can occur. The risk of suffering from life-threatening altitude sickness increases with the elevation. Here is what is most often recommended for altitude sickness treatment.

If you begin noticing signs of altitude sickness, one or more of these actions can relieve it:

  • Gradually descend to lower elevations, about 1,500 to 2,000 feet at a time if possible, until your symptoms subside.
  • Use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) to relieve headaches associated with altitude sickness.
  • Stop and rest for a few days before moving to higher ground. Mild symptoms will generally go away on their own once your body has a chance to adjust to the higher altitudes.
  • Tell your doctor before traveling to high altitudes and inquire about available prescription, OTC, and herbal remedies for altitude sickness treatment.

There are also a variety of steps you can take to help reduce the risk of altitude sickness, which is always more advantageous than having to deal with altitude sickness after symptoms set in:

  • Your body can take several days to grow accustomed to the lower levels of oxygen that occur at high elevations. It’s important to plan your trip carefully so you can arrive at higher elevations gradually. Generally, you should ascend no more than 1,000 feet each day.
  • Levels of oxygen in your blood are lowest during sleep in high elevations. If at all possible, it’s strongly recommended to return to a lower elevation to sleep at night.
  • It is best to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages for the first few days of your trip. Alcohol causes dehydration and can worsen or increase the likelihood of altitude sickness.
  • Try to avoid strenuous exercise or any other physically strenuous activity for a day or two after arriving at your high altitude destination. This will give your body some time to adjust.

Paying attention to your body’s signals is critical when ascending to high altitudes should altitude sickness treatment become necessary. If you notice symptoms, you shouldn’t travel any higher until they subside, and descend to lower elevations if they become worse.