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How to Deal with Altitude Sickness in Tibet

Written by Carol WangUpdated Dec. 11, 2020

Most people are worried about altitude sickness and search for lots of information to reduce the risks. However, it's hard to avoid altitude sickness if you ascend to a high altitude, especially if you are used to living at a low altitude.

Tibet has an average altitude of roughly 4,400 meters (14,000 feet) above sea level. If you are concerned about altitude sickness when planning a Tibet tour, please read the following tips on reducing altitude sickness in Tibet.

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At What Height Will I Get Altitude Sickness?

Generally speaking, most people begin to have some altitude sickness symptoms when they reach somewhere above 2,700 meters (8,900feet) above sea level.

And usually, symptoms of altitude sickness begin 6–48 hours after reaching high altitude areas.

Tibet AltitudeTibet Altitude

How Long Does Altitude Sickness Last?

Generally, altitude sickness symptoms should subside in 3 days. When you get off your plane/train, you won't feel any altitude sickness.

However, after wandering around Lhasa City for a few hours, for example, you may feel weak and suffer from a headache.

Your body can get used to it gradually if you stay at the same altitude. Therefore, we usually suggest our customers spend 3 days in Lhasa city to travel around and adapt to the high altitude.

After your body has adapted to the altitude in Lhasa, you may decide to visit a higher-altitude destination, such as Everest Base Camp at 5,200 meters (17,060 feet).

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Common Altitude Sickness Symptoms

No matter who you are— male or female, senior or young, unfit or very fit —you will probably experience altitude sickness. Take it easy — it's common among all travelers to Tibet.

Nearly all travelers entering Tibet will experience it, whether strongly or only slightly. So, you may get many tips and suggestions from others who have been to Tibet before.

Altitude Sickness

It's usually not so terrible that you'll want to withdraw from a Tibet tour. Learn about altitude sickness symptoms below. Most travelers feel the following symptoms:

  • Headache and dizziness
  • Weakness and tiredness
  • No appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Some people feel like being sick
  • Severe sicknesses is rare: swelling, shock, spasms, and pulmonary edema

At night, you might feel short of breath and find it difficult to fall asleep. Headaches can be worse at night. All but the severe symptoms above are very common for every traveler and can be reduced by taking certain medicines.

Who is Prone to Altitude Sickness?

People with serious heart disease should not go to Tibet, and people with light heart troubles must follow their doctor's advice, as should people with high or low blood pressure, etc.

Anybody who is unwell should postpone/forego a trip to Tibet. Any sickness or reduced fitness will make you more prone to altitude sickness.

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How to Reduce Altitude Sickness

Although altitude sickness is common for travelers to Tibet, you have to take it seriously, because if you get severe altitude sickness, it can kill you. So, make good preparations to ensure a safe and smooth trip.

1. Things to Do before Departure

Here are some of the precautions you can take before entering Tibet, according to previous experiences:

  • Try to keep healthy and avoid catching a cold before entering Tibet. If you even catch a cold before departure, you are advised to postpone your trip or change your itinerary.
  • Consult your doctor about what to do to prepare (or even if you should go) if you have any health concerns.

2. Prepare Medicines to Alleviate Altitude Sickness

Ask your doctor which medicine is suitable for you to use in order to reduce the effects of altitude sickness. Here are some medicines you may consider taking with you, following medical advice:

  • Acetazolamide (Diamox) causes the body to breathe more oxygen: a general altitude sickness reducer
  • Dexamethasone for brain swelling: take it for several days before doing any climbing
  • Ibuprofen for minor headaches and bodily maladies
  • Nifedipine for high blood pressure and to aid breathing at a high altitude
  • Furosemide for an extreme case of pulmonary swelling

If you run out of medicine during your trip, you should tell your tour guide, who will be happy to help you get some more.

Your tour guide can take you to a local pharmacy and will also prepare a free oxygen bottle in the bus/car in case you are badly in need of oxygen.

If you feel very uncomfortable. For example, if you have been sick several times, are having trouble breathing, or have a severe headache, you should get medical advice, consider going to a hospital, or descend to a lower altitude destination.

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What is the Fastest Way to Adjust to High Altitudes in Tibet?

1. Do Things That Reduce Altitude Sickness Naturally

The following things not to do should be followed to give you the best chance to adapt to high altitudes.

  • Don't do any strenuous exercise. Don't run or jump, even if you feel energetic. Rest more.
  • Don't overeat, but do eat more vegetables and drink more water.
  • Don't take a shower in the first 2 days, or just take a quick warm shower if you have to, taking every precaution against catching a cold.
  • Don't drink alcohol, and smokers should smoke as little as possible.

2. Eat Foods That Help with Altitude Sickness

  • Carbohydrates can increase your energy which will help counteract altitude sickness's weakening effects. Bananas, sweet potatoes, and oats are good, healthy carbohydrate sources.
  • Iron-rich foods will help to introduce more red blood cells to increase your body's oxygen capacity. Foods rich in iron include spinach, chicken, beef, cereals, and raisins.
  • Vegetables and fruits rich in Vitamin C will support your healthy immune system, for example, strawberries, carrots, blueberries, eggplant, mushrooms, and cauliflower.
  • Vitamin E can reduce the oxidative stress level of muscles and can help with reducing fatigue and promoting blood circulation. It is found in bright-colored fruits: mangos, tomatoes, etc.
  • Some local Tibetan foods are also helpful to reduce high-altitude effects, such as reishi mushrooms, caterpillar fungus, and butter tea.
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What Are the Treatments for Severe Altitude Sickness in Tibet?

If you develop severe altitude sickness while traveling or walking in Tibet, you must immediately descend to a lower altitude for rest and then keep descending until symptoms go away, while using bottled oxygen to avoid hypoxia.

If symptoms don't get better with bottled oxygen use, or if they get worse, then get medical help right away. Please do ask your tour guide for help. She/he will find the nearest/best medical institution for you.

Even if symptoms are completely gone, you should not go any higher in altitude. You are suggested to stay in Lhasa for good rest or even leave Tibet by flight.

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Suggestions for Going to Higher Altitude Areas in Tibet, e.g. EBC

When traveling to Everest Base Camp(EBC), the motto is "ascend slowly ascend slowly". Everest Base Camp is a long way from Lhasa and there are no direct flights.

Don't expect to have a great trip there in 3 to5 days. If you want to have a great trip and a pleasantly memorable Everest Base Camp tour, you are recommended to plan for more than 8 days in Tibet.

It is strongly recommended that you ascend slowly. The following are itinerary suggestions for your EBC trip.

1. Spend 2–3 Days in Lhasa City to Acclimate

You won't feel any sickness upon arrival and in the first few hours. However, you will probably get a headache at night as the first symptom of your altitude sickness.

We recommend that you spend a couple of days in Lhasa City to get used to its high altitude of 3,600 meters (11,800 feet).

When sleeping, remember to keep your head higher than your body with a high pillow. If you are worried about sleep issues at night, you can ask us to help arrange hotels that provide rooms with free oxygen.

>>Find out the Hotels with Oxygen Supply

2. Spend 1 Day in Shigatse on the Way to EBC

If you are planning to visit Everest Base Camp, you are recommended to spend 1 night in Shigatse at 3,800 meters (12,467 feet). As the driving time from Lhasa to Shigatse is 6-7 hours, you will probably get too tired if you keep going.

Always keep well rested to reduce altitude effects.

3. Spend an Extra Night in Tingri if Time Permits

If your time and budget permit, you are recommended to spend another night in Tingri Town at altitude 4,300 meters (14,107 feet) on the way to EBC at 5,200 meters (17,060 feet).

Otherwise, you will be in a car/bus for about 10 hours from Shigatse to EBC.

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Visit Tibet with Us for Fewer Altitude Worries

We can help you to get acclimatized with the best hotel and food options for you. Our travel experts will advise. We also select and train the best local guides who are experienced at helping visitors overcome altitude sickness.

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See all our Tibet Tours for more options. Or contact us for a customized trip based on your ideas.

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