How to Avoid Pulmonary Edema at High Elevation

How to Avoid Pulmonary Edema at High Elevation
Pulmonary edema is caused by excess fluid in the lungs. Every time you take a breath, the air sacs in your lungs take in oxygen while releasing carbon dioxide. In most cases, this exchange of gases is not problematic. However, under some circumstances the increased pressure in your blood vessels will force excess fluid into your lungs.This prevents your lungs from absorbing oxygen, and causes a condition called pulmonary edema.

Usually, this condition is the result of some sort of heart condition. However, it also occurs at high altitude. In this case, high altitude is defined as altitudes over 6,500 feet. Whether you are a mountain climber of as backcountry skier, it behooves you to understand the risks on high-altitude pulmonary edema.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Water Hiking or backcountry ski gear Medication prescribed by your doctor
  • Water
  • Hiking or backcountry ski gear
  • Medication prescribed by your doctor
Step 1
Spend two days at a lower altitude before you ascend to a higher elevation. For example, if you plan to hike or ski the mountains of Colorado, spend a few days in Denver or Boulder.
Step 2
Stay hydrated. The symptoms of altitude sickness often mimic the symptoms of dehydration.
Step 3
Avoid alcohol and red meat for the first few days of your trip.
Step 4
Ascend gradually. If you plan to hike of Colorado's Fourteeners, do not ascend more than 1,000 feet at a time without stopping to acclimate to the elevation.
Step 5
Sleep at a lower elevation. Sleeping at high altitude causes insomnia.
Step 6
Familiarize your self with the symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema. These include extreme fatigue, cough, chest tightness and congestion. Descend, and seek immediate medical help if you experience these symptoms.

Tips & Warnings

Some people find that ginseng and/or Viagra are helpful.
Your doctor might prescribe Diamox. However, this is dangerous if you are allergic to sulfa drugs.

Article Written By Lisa Mercer

In 1999, Lisa Mercer’s fitness, travel and skiing expertise inspired a writing career. Her books include "Open Your Heart with Winter Fitness" and "101 Women's Fitness Tips." Her articles have appeared in "Aspen Magazine," "HerSports," "32 Degrees," "Pregnancy Magazine" and "Wired." Mercer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the City College of New York.

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