A short course in mountain sickness

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 11-18, 1996
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A short course in mountain sickness
Question: A friend once mentioned that a combination of Tylenol and an antacid, such as Tums, were very effective in alleviating the symptoms of high-altitude sickness. Are there other, more effective ways to deal with it? Thanks.

Larry Buttrey
Long Beach, CA
[email protected]

With a height of 14,162 feet, Mount Shasta could cause altitude sickness
Adventure Adviser: Funny you should ask. Up until about a week ago, I was up to my eyeballs in altitude-related research for a piece we're running next to Jon Krakauer's Everest story in our September issue. But, in an effort to avoid regurgitating heaps and heaps of information you might not need, I'll keep it simple.

First off, there are several things you can do to insure proper acclimatization, without taking preventive medicines. Above 10,000 feet, try to limit your total daily ascents to 1,000 feet, and take a rest day for every 3,000 feet of elevation gained. You can climb more than 1,000 feet in a day, as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude. Hold off on your ascent if you begin to show symptoms of moderate altitude illness (headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting). Drink plenty of fluids, stay away alcohol, and eat a high-carbohydrate diet.

If you've been at high altitudes before and feel lousy regardless of which preventive steps you take, you may want to consider bringing along some Diamox (Acetazolamide), a prescriptive drug that helps you breathe faster so that you metabolize more oxygen. The recommended dose is 125 mg twice a day, and you're best off if you start taking it about 24 hours before you go to altitude and, once you're up there, continue taking it for about five days.

On the downside, Diamox can cause severe allergic reactions, which is why it's a good idea to do a trial run before going to high altitudes. For more info, check with your doctor or log onto the Himalayan Rescue Association's web site for a good rundown on mountain sickness and how to prevent it.

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