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How to Reduce/Deal with Altitude Sickness in Tibet

the Potala Palace The Potala Palace at 3,700 meters

Most people are worried about altitude sickness and search for lots of information to reduce the risks. It’s hard to avoid altitude sickness because you ascend to such a high altitude, especially when you are used to living at a low altitude.

If you are concerned about altitude sickness when planning a Tibet tour, please read the following tips on reducing altitude sickness in Tibet.

To summarize:

  • Don't be scared of mountain sickness. Most people will be ok with adequate preparation and knowledge.
  • Move slowly even if you feel energetic.
  • Taking mountain sickness medicine a before departure is recommended.

Take It Easy — It’s Common Among All Travelers to Tibet

No matter who you are – male or female, senior or young – if you ascend to a high altitude area like Lhasa (3,600 meters / 11,800 feet), you will experience altitude sickness.

But the good news is that you are not alone. Nearly all travelers entering Tibet will experience it, whether strongly or only slightly. So you can get many tips and suggestions from others.

Most Common Altitude Sickness Symptoms

altitude sickness

It’s 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 sickness: 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 the above symptoms are very common for every traveler and can be reduced by taking certain medicines.

You Can Adapt to a High Altitude for 3–7 Days

altitude sicknessYou can adapt to a high altitude.

When you get off your plane/train, you won't feel any altitude sickness. However, after wandering around Lhasa city for a few hours, you will feel weak and suffer from a headache.

Your body can get used to it gradually over 3–7 days when 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 can decide to visit a higher altitude destination, such as Everest Base Camp (5,200 meters / 17,060 feet).

Take It Seriously — Prepare Enough Medicine


Although altitude sickness is common for most travelers to Tibet, you have to take it seriously because if you get severe sickness, it can kill you.

So prepare enough medicine to ensure a safe and smooth trip.

Prepare Medicine to Fight Altitude Sickness

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

  • Acetazolamide (Diamox) for a short supply of oxygen
  • 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 have to tell your tour guide 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, you have been sick several times, can’t breathe, or have a severe headache – you may consider going to hospital, or descend to a lower altitude destination.

Things to Do Before Departure

things not to do in Tibet

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 catch a cold before departure, postpone your trip or change your itinerary.
  • 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.

Things Not to Do in Tibet to Avoid Severe Sickness

There is no way to avoid high altitude sickness (unless you have already been living in a high altitude area). 

So take our advice with the following things not to do in order to avoid a more serious form of altitude sickness:

  • Don’t do any strenuous exercise. Don’t run or jump, even if you feel energetic.
  • Don’t overeat, and do eat more vegetables and drink more water.
  • Don’t take a shower in the first 2 days, or take a quick shower if you have to, in case you catch a cold.
  • Don’t drink alcohol, and smokers should smoke as little as possible.

Tour to Everest Base Camp Suggestions — Ascend Slowly

It’s not a cheap trip to Everest Base Camp but don’t expect to have a great trip in 3 or 5 days. Everest Base Camp is a long way from Lhasa city and there are no direct flights.

If you want to have a great trip and memorable Everest Base Camp tour, you are recommended to plan for more than 8 days. It is also recommended that you ascend slowly. The following are itinerary suggestions for your EBC trip.

Lhasa City at 3,600 Meters: Spend 2–3 Days There to Adapt to the High Altitude

lhasaLhasa city at 3,600 meters

You won’t feel any sickness upon arrival and in the first few hours. However, you will 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 the high altitude at 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.

Shigatse City at 3,800 Meters: Spend 1 Day There Before Heading to EBC

Tashilhunpo MonasteryTashilhunpo Monastery at Shigatse

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

Tingri County at 4,300 Meters: Spend an Extra Night There If Your Time and Budget Permits

If your time and budget permits, you are recommended to spend another night in Tingri County (4,300 meters / 14,107 feet) before going to Everest Base Camp (5,200 meters / 17,060 feet). Otherwise, you will be in a car/bus for about 10 hours from Shigatse to EBC.

Let China Highlights Help You Discover Tibet in Your Own Way


If you are planning a Tibet tour, you need a Chinese local travel agency to help you apply for Tibet permits, and to arrange a tour guide and driver. Just tell us your interests and requirements and we will help you create your Tibet tour.

Alternatively, please see our popular Tibet tour itineraries below for inspiration:

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