Altitude Sickness (and 6 Tips for Acclimatization in Tibet)

Altitude Sickness (and 6 Tips for Acclimatization in Tibet)

by Extravagant Yak July 01, 2019 0 Comments

People often have questions about how they can avoid altitude sickness while travelling in Tibet. While altitude affects everyone a little differently, in the last 1000 clients we’ve only had two people who have needed to be evacuated to lower elevation due to the severity of their symptoms.

What is altitude sickness?  

To start, knowing what symptoms to look for is important. Symptoms range from minor and normal, to severe and life-threatening.

Common Symptoms

Here are some of the common symptoms that are normal when acclimatizing to high elevation:

  • Increased heart rate (~10-20 bpm higher resting heart rate)
  • Slight headache
  • Feeling out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, etc.
  • Having trouble sleeping (including light sleep and heightened dreaming)
  • Slight dizziness
  • Feeling lethargic/tired
  • Nausea, change in appetite
  • Slight irritability

While you might not experience all of these when you travel to a higher elevation, it is very likely that you will experience at least one of (or a combination of) these things. 

Serious Symptoms

Serious symptoms that require close monitoring, and may need immediate medical treatment include:

  • Inability to catch your breath while sitting, resting, etc.
  • Severe headache
  • Becoming uncoordinated (feeling/acting “drunk”)
  • Confusion
  • Irrational Behavior
  • Repetitive Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness (very severe!)

Serious symptoms should be monitored closely! These symptoms warrant seeking medical treatment, and if very severe, getting to a lower elevation immediately will likely be the best course of action. 


Gongka Mountain viewed from above the clouds Enjoy the beauty of the mountains from above the clouds!


Other things to know about adjusting to altitude: 

It’s important to know that even if you have been to altitude before, your body’s response can be completely different from trip to trip. Additionally, those who consider themselves “fit” often don’t think that they will feel the altitude as bad as other people, so they don’t really take their guide’s warnings and advice seriously (resulting in their own discomfort).

Altitude doesn’t discriminate. Remember, it’s not a competition. Altitude isn’t impressed by how many mountains you have climbed, or how many marathons you have run (or haven't climbed or run). Have patience with your body when travelling to high elevation. For your own sake: take it slow.


Tips for Acclimatizing to Altitude 

While altitude sickness is not a joke, the body is amazing at adjusting, and typically will adjust to the elevation in 1-3 days. To help you prepare for a trip to Tibet, here are our best tips for acclimatization:


Four ladies standing in front of a Tibetan cafe

Plan to take some slow days with your travel buddies. 


  • Plan acclimatization days

While there is a lot to see and do in Tibet, as you travel higher, make sure you give your body enough time to adjust before you continue on. Typically, once you get above 3000m, it is not recommended to gain more than 300m elevation gain in a day (measured from between your sleeping locations – it’s okay if you are going up over a mountain pass, but sleep lower again). While there is often a focal point of where to “get to” on a trip, enjoy the journey, and use the proper acclimatization time to explore the culture along the way!


Mountain Bike Riders stop for a photo beside an elevation marker at 4718 ft.

Mountain Bike Clients at 4,700m and loving it!


  • Consult with your doctor

Talk with your doctor about any health concerns you might have, and if they would recommend taking preventative medication during the trip. If you do choose to take medication (or just keep it on hand), discussing it with a medical professional is important to make sure that your particular medication is right for you.

Note: if you have a history of heart or respiratory issues, are a senior, are pregnant, or have children travelling with you under the age of 5, be sure to consult with your doctor before planning your trip.


A bottle of "Tibetan Magic Water"

Always carry water with you, and drink more than you think you need.


  • Drink a lot of water

Drink lots and lots of water! If there is a key to alleviating altitude discomfort as much as possible, this is it. Keep your fluid levels high to help your body adjust to the elevation, and make sure you are not confusing symptoms with simple dehydration. As you drive, fly, or climb higher, drink water en route so that your body is well prepared when you reach the highest point. Yes, you’ll need to use the bathroom more frequently, but this is just another excuse to pull off and explore the village rest stops along the way – you’re in Tibet, it’s part of the fun!


Two Tibetan men laugh while taking a break in their car.

 Enjoy the journey and meet the locals along the way!


  • Take it slow

You might be fit at sea level, but when adjusting to a higher elevation, it is common to feel your heart thump in your chest just from climbing a flight of stairs! To avoid huffing and puffing everywhere, move a little slower than usual in your first day or two. Take particular care when making any sudden movements or getting up from a sitting or squatting position. Your heart needs to pump a little harder to get the blood to your head, so go easy on yourself!

  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine

Similar to fighting dehydration with a lot of water, don’t compound the problem by drinking alcohol or caffeine as you adjust. If you absolutely need your caffeine, at least limit your intake, and try to skip the first day.


A man standing on a rock in Tibet with a long white scarf blowing in the wind Inhale deeply as you stand in awe of this majestic culture!


  • Just Breath

Overall, just breathe. Relax. Stay calm. Breathe deeply and steadily as opposed to quick shallow breaths. Travellers who are nervous about the altitude can become even more anxious at the first hint of symptoms. If you think you are starting to have symptoms, monitor them, tell your guide and/or travel companions, but do your best to rest and stay calm.


Of course, if you are displaying serious symptoms, getting medical help and evacuation to lower elevation may be necessary. While altitude sickness can be serious, following the previous few tips can lower your risk of experiencing major problems, and make your trip to Tibet even more enjoyable! 

 If you are ready to have your breath taken away by the stunning culture, scenery, and people that make up Tibet, let's start a conversation. Shoot us a quick message and we'd be happy to help you plan the perfect trip.  


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Extravagant Yak
Extravagant Yak


Western-owned and locally-operated, Extravagant Yak's specialty is providing rich and authentic, personally-crafted travel experiences in Tibet.

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