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  • Writer's pictureRyan DeMasters

3 Types of Altitude Sickness

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

What’s altitude sickness?

There are 3 types of altitude sickness per REI.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) which is the mildest, most common formHigh-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) which is the brain beginning to swellHigh-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which is the lungs beginning to fill with fluid

Altitude sickness occurs when you go up in altitude quickly where the is lower pressure and less oxygen. Symptoms usually appear in altitudes higher than 8,000-foot elevation, but this also is affected at the elevation at which someone lives.

Acute Mountain Sickness:

Feels like a hangover with nausea/vomiting, fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping.

Good news!

Treatment is as easy as letting the body adapt to the higher altitude given time, or descending to a lower elevation where you didn’t feel symptoms last.

High-Altitude Cerebellar Edema:

This usually is presented as a moderate to severe form of AMS. Clues that the brain has begun swelling are confusion and impaired balance. Look for symptoms of the person being unable to walk a straight line from heel to toe and cannot balance on one foot.

Treatment is the immediate descent to a lower altitude. Descent may not be the only cure for this, you have to think of actual medical attention as soon as HACE is suspected.

High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema:

This may or may not be preceded by AMS or HACE. Symptoms usually appear as shortness of breath with a dry cough. Signs that the lungs are continuing to fill with fluid include: worsening of SOB, unexpected fatigue with the inability to exert oneself, and/or a wet, gurgly cough develops.

Treatment is descent immediately as this can cause someone to collapse and die. If symptoms persist, contact medical help.


You can prevent altitude sickness by acclimating to the elevation before starting your ascent.

Acclimating is the process of adapting to a new temperature, altitude, climate environment, or situation.

This process is important in order to avoid getting altitude sickness in any of the forms that it comes in. Everyone acclimates at a different rate regardless of age, race, gender and fitness level.

There are medications you can actually utilize in the prevention of altitude sickness as well. One such medication is Diamox “ask your doctor if Diamox is right for you!” and Dexamethasone.

Of Note:

Your body must re-acclimatize whenever you go to a higher elevation/altitude even after you’ve already acclimated to the one you just acclimated to. Per Princeton University, above 10,000 feet, you should only ascend 1,000 every day, and for every 3,000 feet gained in elevation, you should take 1 rest day. More in-depth info on their website here.


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