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How to avoid acute mountain sickness at high altitude

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is the most common form of altitude illness affecting mountain climbers, travelers at high altitudes. It is the mildest form and very common, typically occurs at about 8,000 feet, or 2,400 meters, above sea level. The best way to prevent altitude illness is to ascend gradually, and the human body takes time to acclimatize at high altitude.

Acclimatization is a natural process of gradual physiological change of the human body as it gets used to new climatic conditions. Ladakh is a high-altitude area, which means the air pressure is low at that height, and people feel discomfort in breathing. Due to the low oxygen level, it can be fatal if it is ignored.

Causes of AMS

The faster you ascend to a high altitude, the more likely you will get acute mountain sickness. Limited air pressure and less oxygen are usually common at higher altitudes. When you climb such heights quickly, your body may not get sufficient time to adjust to the changing surroundings. And this is what leads to acute mountain sickness.

Acclimatization is one crucial thing that you should keep in mind while planning for the Ladakh trip. At high altitudes of Ladakh, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) can affect you and cause severe headaches, nausea, restlessness, or even inability to walk.

Anyone can get this sickness don’t matter what your age or sex. You may be at higher risk if you:

    1. Staying at or near sea level and journey to a high altitude.
    2. Already have an illness.
    3. Ascend quickly.
    4. Not acclimatized to the elevation.
    5. Having medical problems related to the nervous system, heart, or lungs.

Ascending to these elevations can draw symptoms of altitude sickness:

    1. High altitude = 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level.
    2. Very high altitude = 12,000 to 20,000 feet.
    3. Extremely high altitude = 20,000+ feet.

Symptoms of AMS

Symptoms usually come on within 12 to 24 hours of reaching a higher altitude and then get healthier within a day or two as the body adapts to the change. Depending on the body to body, the signs may also differ. Some may feel mild symptoms like a headache with swelling of feet, hands, and face. Others may have nose bleeding accompanied by headaches. Usually, these signs may last for the short-term, two days or a week. Following are the common symptoms of acute mountain sickness in high-altitude areas.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Problems with sleep
  • Loss of appetite
acute mountain sickness

How to Acclimate on high altitude areas tour to avoid AMS

Medicine to take or carry

  • Diamox – Diamox helps the body to breathe faster hence accelerating the acclimatization process. Take it as preventive medicine and not once you start feeling AMS. Suggested Quantity – 125-250 mg twice a day
  • Aspirin/Disprin – Aspirin and Disprin work as blood thinners and enable your blood to carry more oxygen.
  • Dexamethasone – Dexamethasone also helps in overcoming AMS. Suggested Quantity – 2-4 mg after every 6 hours
  • Oxygen Cylinders – One must carry portable oxygen cylinders easily available at the chemist shop to avoid AMS.

Apart from these allopathic medicines, natural remedies like Clove, Garlic and Ginger can be used to alleviate AMS.


The best way to prevent altitude illness is through acclimatization. That means you let your body slowly get used to the changes in air pressure as you travel to higher elevations. To avoid AMS ruining your vacation, you should plan to stay in Leh for 2 days at least and let your body adapt to the high altitudes and then go to Nubra or Pangong.

Do's and Don'ts for Ladakh tour

Remember below things if you are planning to visit leh Ladakh to avoid acute mountain sickness (AMS):

  • Leh and Ladakh require utmost physical fitness; make sure you are not sick during your travel.
  • Give your body time to adapt, raise your altitude slowly. Stay in Leh for 2 days at least. During this time, you can go to visit monasteries and palaces.
  • Do not visit Ladakh, if you are suffering from high blood pressure, Asthma, or any other heart-related disease. High altitude may increase the problem.
  • Have proper water intakes. As Dehydration cause problem, so does excessive hydration.  For a normal person, increasing your daily water intake by one liter should be enough to fulfill the by needs.
  • Ensure wearing proper warm clothes. Covering your heads and ears is a must thing as low oxygen levels could cause fatigue, which leads to difficulty in breathing.
  • A garlic soup or any soup with a high content of garlic can be really helpful in adapting high altitudes and treating AMS.
  • If you notice any symptoms of AMS, such as a headache, nausea, dizziness, or fatigue, take rest. If you are at higher altitude places of Ladakh such as Kharadung La, it’s better to descend.
  • Do not drink or smoke at high altitude places

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