General advice when travelling to areas of high altitude

  • Awareness of the symptoms of altitude illness is crucial
  • Symptoms that occur at altitude are assumed to be altitude illness until proven otherwise
  • Never ascend to sleep at a higher altitude in the presence of symptoms of altitude illness
  • Always attempt to descend if symptoms of altitude illness worsen at a given altitude or if symptoms are severe
  • Never leave an individual with altitude illness alone
  • Always trek with an experienced guide
  • Travel insurance should adequately cover the itinerary and activities. The planned maximum altitude should be disclosed and emergency evacuation by helicopter included within the policy
  • Where possible avoid travel from altitudes less than 1,200m to altitudes greater than 3,500m in a single day
  • Above 3,000m avoid increasing sleeping elevation by more than 500m a day and ensure a rest day (at the same altitude) every three or four days
  • It is recognised that travellers flying or driving directly to high altitude locations may be unable to ascend gradually. In such cases, rest days should be strongly considered before or after such large gains in elevation and elsewhere in the itinerary to ensure that the overall ascent rate averaged over the entire trip (e.g, total elevation gain divided by the number of days of ascent during the trip) falls below the 500m/day threshold.

Medication

  • Preventative medications are not necessary for low risk situations and individuals should rely on gradual ascent. We can advise on your risk of altitude sickness during your travel consultation
  • Preventative medications may be considered in addition to gradual ascent in moderate or high-risk situations. We can prescribe and dispense acetazolamide if required
  • Medication should be started one day prior to ascent to high altitude and then continued for at least two days after reaching the highest altitude
  • In the absence of symptoms,  individuals who have ascended to a high point and then descend towards the base (eg, descending from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro), should stop preventive medications when descent is initiated
  • A trial dose of medication for one or two days should be taken prior to travel to check for side effects which include: increased urine production (diuresis), pins and needles (paraesthesia), nausea, vomiting, headache and taste disturbance.
  • Evidence for the benefit of gingko biloba and coca is either inconclusive or lacking and is not recommended for the prevention of AMS.

Other risks to consider at high altitude

Travellers should carry a first aid kit and equipment to cope with common problems, blisters, sore throat, sun exposure. Contaminated food and water can be an issue in some areas, travellers should follow food and water hygiene advice and be prepared to manage the symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea.