Altitude Sickness: What First Aiders Need to Know

Altitude Sickness: What First Aiders Need to Know

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that can occur when individuals ascend to high altitudes too quickly, where the air pressure and oxygen levels are lower. While altitude sickness is typically not life-threatening, it can cause discomfort and potentially progress to more severe forms if not addressed properly. In this guide, we'll explore what first aiders need to know about altitude sickness, its symptoms, and the steps to take when providing assistance.

1. Understanding Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness is a response to the reduced oxygen levels at higher altitudes. It can occur when ascending to altitudes above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) relatively quickly. The severity of symptoms varies, and individuals can experience mild to severe discomfort.

2. Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Mild Symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping

Severe Symptoms (Seek Immediate Medical Help):

  • Severe headache that does not improve with pain relievers
  • Shortness of breath at rest
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Confusion or altered mental state
  • Coughing up pink or frothy sputum

3. First Aid Measures

a. Descent


Immediate Action:

b. Rest and Hydration



c. Pain Relief

Pain Relievers:

d. Oxygen

Supplemental Oxygen:

4. Prevention and Precautions

Gradual Ascension:

Stay Hydrated:

Avoid Alcohol and Medications:

Recognize Limits:

5. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)



6. When to Seek Medical Help

Severe Symptoms:

Worsening Symptoms:

Altitude sickness is a common concern for individuals traveling to high altitudes. While most cases are mild and can be managed with proper rest and hydration, severe forms like HAPE and HACE require immediate medical attention. First aiders should be familiar with the symptoms of altitude sickness and the appropriate steps to take to ensure the well-being of individuals experiencing its effects. Preventive measures and gradual acclimatization are key to minimizing the risk of altitude sickness when traveling to higher altitudes.

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