Altitude Sickness and Oxygen



Altitude sickness can come in many forms with different degrees of intensity. It is most commonly known to cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea for those who are not accustomed to thinner air. If symptoms are mild and you around 8,000 feet, its more than likely acute mountain sickness (AMS).


Air pressure gets lower as you move to higher altitudes and the air has less oxygen in it the further up you go. This oxygen deprivation is known as hypoxia. Earth’s gravity pulls oxygen to its surface, so the further you go up, the harder it will be to breathe.

The chest starts to heave as the oxygen becomes less available, the lungs will attempt to pull in more air to account for the lack of oxygen. The cardiovascular system also feels stress as it needs the air pressure to be higher outside the body than it is in the lungs in order to breathe easily. Since the air is much thinner at higher altitudes, it becomes more difficult for the lungs to pull in air and also for oxygen to be sent throughout the body.


The use of supplemental oxygen therapy can quickly relieve symptoms of altitude sickness, especially headaches. It’s important to consume oxygen for the appropriate length of time to completely resolve and avoid continued symptoms.


Oxygen concentrators can help. Home oxygen concentrators come in 5 or 10 liters per minute (lpm) models. The 5 lpm machines can use a single nasal cannula, while the 10 lpm machines can use a single non-rebreather mask or 2 nasal cannulas via a Y-connector, allowing two people to use it at the same time. Oxygen concentrators can come with a humidifier, which prevents the nasal passage from drying out.

If you plan to take a trip to the mountains or just a higher altitude, supplemental oxygen therapy can help you enjoy your time.

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