What Causes Elevation Sickness?


Quick Answer

An individual who is not accustomed to altitudes higher than 8,000 feet may experience altitude sickness if he ascends too quickly from a lower elevation because his body is unable to derive sufficient amounts of oxygen from the thinner air, explains WebMD. Individuals experiencing altitude sickness may breathe more rapidly and experience headaches and insomnia. Although common, altitude sickness can be dangerous, and neither gender nor fitness level affect an individual’s risk for the condition.

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Full Answer

Altitude sickness resembles a hangover, with symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, extreme fatigue and weakness, dizziness and lack of appetite, according to WebMD. Symptoms may begin a day after reaching a high altitude. Potentially life-threatening symptoms that require immediate medical attention include a crackling sound in the lungs when breathing, blue fingernails or lips, disorientation and staggering when walking.

The most common form of altitude illness, acute mountain sickness, affects 25 percent of individuals visiting Colorado who sleep above 8,000 feet, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is a genetic predisposition for the condition, but no diagnostic tests exist to identify it as of 2015. An individual can acclimatize to a high altitude over a three- to five-day period by not ascending higher than 9,000 feet on the first day, sleeping at that altitude for at least one night, and limiting his daily elevation increase thereafter to an additional 1,600 feet.

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