Things to Avoid
Respiratory depression (the slowing down of breathing) can be caused by
various medications, and may be a problem at altitude. The following
medications can do this, and should never be used by someone who has
symptoms of altitude illness (these may be safe in persons who are not
ill, although this remains controversial)
- Sleeping pills (acetazolamide is the sleeping tablet of choice at
- Narcotic pain medications in more than modest doses
The key to avoiding AMS is a gradual ascent that gives your body time to
acclimatize. People acclimatize at different rates, so no absolute
statements are possible, but in general, the following recommendations
will keep most people from getting AMS
- If possible, you should spend at least one night at an intermediate
elevation below 3000 meters.
- At altitudes above 3000 meters (10,000 feet), your sleeping elevation
should not increase more than 300-500 meters (1000-1500 feet) per night.
- Every 1000 meters (3000 feet) you should spend a second night at the
Remember, it's how high you sleep each night that really counts;
climbers have understood this for years, and have a maxim "climb high,
sleep low". The day hikes to higher elevations that you take on your
"rest days" (when you spend a second night at the same altitude) help
your acclimatization by exposing you to higher elevations, then you
return to a lower (safer) elevation to sleep. This second night also
ensures that you are fully acclimatized and ready for further ascent.
Preventing Severe AMS
This simply cannot be emphasized too much. If you have symptoms of AMS,
DO NOT ASCEND ANY HIGHER. Violating this simple rule has resulted in
many tragic deaths.
If you ascend with AMS you will get worse, and you might die. This is
extremely important - even a day hike to a higher elevation is a great
risk. In many cases of High Altitude Cerebral Edema, this rule was
violated. Stay at the same altitude (or descend) until your symptoms
completely go away. Once your symptoms are completely gone, you have
acclimatized and then it is OK to continue ascending. It is always OK to
descend, you will get better faster.