High Altitude Sickness in Tibet

Extremely high elevations such as those encountered on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau may present unique problems to people who are not accustomed to these high altitudes. Fortunately, the following are some tips to prevent or at least alleviate the uncomfortable feelings caused by altitude sickness.

Before you go to Tibet
  • A physical examination before the trip is necessary as people with heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, serious anemia, and other cardio and respiratory problems should not travel in the extreme altitudes encountered Tibet. Even if you do not believe that you have a health problem, the sudden change to a high altitude possibly make a latent one apparent. We strongly suggest that you had better take proper precautions. It is best to ask your doctor to advise you about precautions you can take and items to bring along on your trip that may assist you to adjust to the climate and altitude. It is also a good idea to pack some commonly used over-the-counter medicines, such as those used for cold, inflammation, insect bite, and sunstroke. But, even with these OTC items, you should check with your doctor or pharmacist to ensure that the brands are safe in very high altitude environments.
  • Work out a reasonable itinerary. It is a favorable choice to travel from relatively low elevation to get used to the attitude sickness step by step. For example, you can travel firstly in Nyingchi Region, the average elevation of which is about 2,900 meters, then to higher places. It is better to travel by plane than by road or by railway. The latter ways will not help adapt tourists gradually to the plateau, but rather make tourists too tired to adapt.
  • Altitudes of the main regions in Tibet
Cities or Counties
Altitude (m. / ft.)
Tsetang
3,500 / 11, 483
Lhasa
3,650 / 11, 975
Shigatse
3,836 / 12, 585
Gyangtse
4,040 / 13, 255
Dingri
4,300 / 14, 108
Nyingchi
3,000 / 9, 843
Chamdo
3,240 / 10, 630
Purang
3,700 / 12, 139
Damxung
4,200 /13, 780
Pagri
4,300 / 14, 108
Nakchu
4,507 / 14, 787
Amdo
4,800 / 15, 748
 

When you in Tibet
  • Take good rest after your arrival. People cannot feel altitude sickness until several hours after the arrival. If you are too excited in the first hours, you will suffer a lot when it comes. Do not eat too much. Your stomach may not work as well as it does on the plain. Besides, do not drink alcohol.
  • When altitude sickness comes, do not be panic. The symptoms of Altitude Sickness are headache, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, disturbed sleep, and a general feeling of malaise. Symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after arrival at altitude and begin to decrease in severity about the third day.
  • You can just sleep or take medicines following the doctor's advice. Tibetan doctors know too well procedures for curing it. Do not depend on inbreathing pure oxygen. It will only slow your adaptation process.
  • Try to not catch a cold. On the plateau, a cold can easily turn into dangerous high altitude illness. Wearing warm and enough clothes for the plateau is usually extremely cold. Do not take showers or bathes too frequently especially on your first night in Tibet. This will help you avoid catching severe colds.
  • Please keep a good mood and be optimistic all times. Fight your fear of altitude sickness. When you overcome it, it will do you no harm. Generally speaking, this process takes 2-4 days or a little longer depends on individuals.
  • Your high altitude diet should consist primarily of foods that are easy to digest, such as light soups, cereals, noodles, fruits and cooked vegetables. This is one time when sugar in your diet is a plus as a source of energy, especially brown sugar which works well to relieve altitude sickness. Moreover, avoiding cigarettes, cigars and alcohol is very important.

Finally, some experts suggest that children younger than 10 years old should not travel to Tibet. Their lower immune resistance slows recovery from altitude sickness and the altitude can adversely affect their normal growth. Again, always check with your family physician about your decisions before your trip.