High Altitude Sickness, also medically referred to as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). It is a possible uncomfortable pathological reaction in high altitude regions where the air pressure is low and oxygen is thin.
You can acclimatize high altitude sickness in a gradual process. The possible reactions differ by physical conditions. Usually, the symptoms of AMS are moderate.
Common Symptoms of High Altitude Sickness:
• Headache or dizziness
• Difficult breathing
• Feeling nauseaous
• Chest distress
• Loss of appetite
• Abdominal distension
• Numbness in limbs
If not being treated well, the mild high altitude sickness may cause severe altitude sickness, even threaten your life. So you have to be well prepared before your Tibet trip.
Trekking on Mount Kailash Kora - Average Altitude 4800m
Definition of High Altitude
When we travel to high-altitude places, we may suffer High Altitude Sickness. What elevations may cause high altitude sickness? Usually an elevation of more than 3000 meters (8000ft) may let you suffer from AMS. And Tibet’s average elevation is about 4000 meters. So high altitude sickness is a tough challenge you have to conquer during your Tibet journey.
Then how to define the “high altitude”? Actually, the definitions vary. The following is a widely-agreed definition of “high altitude” when it is related to High Altitude Sickness:
• High altitude: around 2438 to 3658 meters (8000 to 12,000 feet)
• Very high altitude: 3658 to 5486 meters (12,000 to 18,000 feet)
• Extreme high altitude: above 5486 meters (above 18,000 feet)
High altitude destinations in Tibet Lhasa-3,658 m (12,001 ft), Tsetang-3,500 m (11,483 ft), Nyingchi-3,000 m (9,842.5 ft)
Very high altitude destinations in Tibet Gyantse-4,040 m (13,254.6 ft), Shigatse-3,836 m (12,585 ft), Everest Base Camp on Tibet side-5,200 m (17,060 ft), Namtso Lake-4,718 m (15,479 ft)
Extreme high altitude destinations in Tibet Mount Kailash trek (Drolma-la Pass - 5,630m (18,471 ft)
It is quite common that most people will suffer from High Altitude Sickness at different levels. Please also note that the High Alitude Sickness usually can heal itself by eventually acclimatizing your body to the altitude, air pressure and temperatures. Below are some useful tips about how to avoid High Altitude Sickness in Tibet:
Before Arriving in Tibet
• Keep physically and mentally healthy. Keep relaxing in mind.
• Take a physical examination and consult your doctor for advice on preparing AMS medication.
• Prevent from having a cold and respiratory disease before taking your flight/train to Tibet.
• Try to have a great night's sleep at the night before taking your flight/train to Tibet.
• Avoid strenuous activities, such as running, jumping or climbing up to high mountains during the first 2~3 arrival days
• During your arrival and trip in Lhasa, you should walk at a slow pace, take deep breaths. Leave plenty of time to acclimatize.
• You’d better not take a bath on the first day of arrival to prevent from catching a cold.
• Drinking more water is helpful, but drinking alcohol is not recommended.
• Eat more food with rich carbohydrates.
• Don’t take depressant drugs.
• Less smoke cigarettes.
• Don’t use oxygen bottle immediately if your symptoms are not worse, which is helpful to acclimatize faster.
• When you need to ascending to higher altitudes, you must ascent gradually. If you begin to feel High Altitude Sickness, stop ascend any higher, or retreat to lower altitude.
• If your AMS reactions are severe, go to hospital as soon as possible.
• Some hotels in Lhasa also have an Oxygen supply. You can also let your tour guide take you to local hospital for treatment.
Important note: You’d better have a full medical examination of your health, and take your doctor’s advice seriously. If your health may take risks in high altitude regions, you are not suggested visit Tibet. Commonly the following situations do not allow you to go to Tibet:
• Heavy cold
• Severe anemia
• High blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Breathing diseases, including pneumonia, tuberculosis, tracheitis, and bronchitis
Not to Catch Cold
Patala Palace (3700m)
Namtso Lake (4718m)
Got a bad cold? Think Twice about Going
It is very dangerous to travel in high-altitude places when you are catching a cold because the colds can largely break down our body’s defense system against the harsh environment, such as high altitude, low temperatures, etc. Therefore, it is easy to cause high altitude related sicknesses, the worst of which is the pulmonary edema which may threaten our life if it is not treated well. If you have a cold, you’d better recover from it before boarding your flight to Tibet.
If you catch a cold after arriving in Tibet, you’d better stay in lower-altitude cities where there are better hospitals, such as Lhasa and Nyingchi. You can spend several days recovering and acclimatization. Usually, you don’t have to worry too much about it because your body will gradually acclimate to the plateau and then heal itself with the help of right treatment. You are suggested to bring some of your own medicines for emergency use, such as Ibuprofen and Aspirin. Just don’t push your body too hard. Leave your body enough days for the recovery and acclimatization while in Tibet.
Travel from Lower Altitudes to Higher Altitudes – Itinerary Planning Tips
When you are planning an itinerary, you have to put the altitude factor into consideration. You are suggested to travel lower altitude places first, then gradually extend your trip to higher places, which will be very helpful for avoiding High Altitude Sickness. It is very common that one suffers from High Altitude Sickness in Lhasa, but feels nothing about the high altitude when he/she gets to the Everest Base Camp which has an altitude of 5200 meters. Because he/she will have to spend several days for acclimation.
Lower Altitude Destinations
-Lhasa(3,658 m / 12,001 ft), Nyingchi(3,000 m / 9,842.5 ft), Shannan(3,500 m / 11,483 ft), Shigatse(3,836 m (12,585 ft), Gyantse(4,040 m /13,254.6 ft)
Higher Altitude Destinations
-Mount Everest(5,200m / 17,060f t), Namtso Lake(4,718 m / 15479 ft), Mount Kailash Kora (5,630m / 18471 ft)
Let’s take the most classic itinerary in Tibet - 8 Days Tibet Everest Base Camp Tour as an example:
Day 1 Lhasa Arrival
Day 2~3 Lhasa City Acclimatization Tour (highest altitude: Potala Palace 3700m)
Day 3 Leave Lhasa for Shigatse (3900m), via Gyantse(4100m)
Day 4 Drive from Shigatse to Rongbuk Monastery (4980m) on Mount Everest
Day 5 Travel from Rongbuk Monastery to Everest Base Camp (5200m)
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Dr A Zaman
I am Insulin dependent diabetes with hypertension well controlled, 72 years old. Should I take Acetazolamide to prevent high altitude sickness?
Hi Dr A Zaman,
Thanks for your question. We advise you to take a physical examination and consult your doctor for advice on preparing AMS medication before going to Tibet. The average altitude of Tibet is about 4000m while the average altitude of Lhasa is 3700m, which is pretty high technically. You should get prepared and well packed if you are travelling to Tibet.