Illness after return from altitude.


I returned from a hiking trip to the summit of Mt Whitney day before yesterday. This was my 4th trip up Whitney and my third successful summit. I had altitude sickness each of the other three trips, the last being 10 years ago. I had no ill effects this time and felt great the entire climb. I attribute this to two factors: First, even though I am 57 years old I am in much better physical condition than in previous climbs, and secondly, I took 400mg of ibu 3 times a day for three three days prior to the climb and on the day of the climb.

However, yesterday I experienced shortness of breath and mild fatigue. Today those symptoms have been more intense following a three mile run this morning. This afternoon the symptoms seem to be subsiding. I also have body/joint aches today and loss of appetite. I am wondering if I could have a delayed reaction to the altitude or even if ibuprofen could mask symptoms on the mountain and some residual symptoms appear later.

I suspect this is a virus but thought I would run the question by you. Any thoughts?



Thanks for your question to mountaindoc.

Congratulations on your fourth ascent of Mt Whitney.

Even the same person ascending the same mountain at the same speed can be affected differently by the altitude at different times. There could be a number of reasons that you felt better this time. Fitness in itself is not a protective factor for altitude illness.

Ibuprofen has been shown to be useful for preventing and treating altitude headache and possibly also for Acute Mountain Sickness, although at higher doses than you took. Ibuprofen, like Acetazolamide (Diamox) will not mask symptoms of altitude illness only reduce your chances of getting symptoms. Also, altitude will not cause effects once you are back at lower levels if you have not been affected whilst at altitude. If you have symptoms they will usually clear up within hours of returning to sea level/your normal altitude. I would agree with you that this is probably a virus. Being at altitude and the exertion of climbing will both reduce your immunity and therefore make it more likely that you are susceptible to infection during that time and produce symptoms 24-48 hours later.

I hope this helps

Dr Kitty Duncan, DiMM



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