Quito Altitude Sickness – Symptoms & Treatment
July 26, 2019
by on July 26, 2019

Quito Altitude Sickness – Symptoms & Treatment

Quito, Ecuador is 2800 meters above sea level, and visitors often suffer from altitude sickness. Be prepared to recognize symptoms and help yourself with treatment.

In Quito, Ecuador, altitude sickness is common, known locally as “soroche.” These symptoms come in the form of a mild headache, shortness of breath during physical exertion, and some experience exhaustion, dizziness or nausea. Living it in the second-highest capital city in the world takes some strong lungs! Often times these sypmtons present themselves due to travelers flying into Quito for tourism and not having a chance to slowly acclimate.  Read on to find out the symptoms and prevention techniques

Classic Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness presents itself with these symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite, nausea, or vomiting
  • Exhaustion or weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Pins and needles
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Feeling sleepy
  • General malaise
  • Swelling of the hands, feet, and face

What altitude is Quito?

Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is located at an altitude of approximately 2,850 meters (9,350 feet) above sea level. It is known for being one of the highest capital cities in the world. The city’s high altitude can have an impact on visitors who are not accustomed to such elevations, and it may take some time to acclimate to the thinner air and reduced oxygen levels.

The symptoms of altitude sickness begin around 8,000 feet plus, and Quito sits at 9,35 feet.

Why does altitude sickness occur in Quito, Ecuador?

The number of oxygen molecules per breath decreases as altitude increases. With Quito sitting at 9,000 feet, the illness arrives due to lack of oxygen in the body, as each breach sends less oxygen to the placed that need them. Factors that come into play are age, weight, blood pressure, and general fitness of an individual. Other factors are how fast a person climbs to 8,000 ft and the amount of time spent at a high altitude. Because most travelers are traveling by plane from much lower elevations, the change in atmosphere is immediate and noticeable. Thus, on your first night climbing a flight of stairs or walking up a steep hill, you will likely feel quite winded by the altitude!

Pay attention to your body at high altitudes

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Medicine to Prevent or Lessen Quito Altitude Sickness

Consult with your doctor before taking any medicine. Acetazolamide, the main ingredient in Diamox, is a medicine to help with altitude sickness. his medicine can also be found in pharmacies in Ecuador under the name Glaucomed.  The usual recommended dosage is 125 mg twice a day, taken once in the morning and once at lunch.  This medicine decreases and eliminates the majority of unpleasant symptoms from the radical decrease of oxygen levels in your body that occurs from visiting Quito. If you plan on doing a day trip to Maccu Picchu or Cotapaxi Mountain in Ecuador, this can be a lifesaver.  Acetazolamide works less over time, so it is usually used only for a short period.

General Altitude Sickness prevention Tips for Quito

Try to drink 3 liters of water every day. This can be difficult for people that don’t drink a lot of water, but it truly can make a difference. Bring a water bottle that has measurements to gauge how much you are drinking. Try to a lot of your calories from carbs. Luckily, Quito Ecuador has a lot of these, and tasty at that! If the symptoms are bad, avoid the use of tobacco, alcohol, or sleeping pills.

Acclimatize slowly if possible

As part of prevention, you must remember that the illness occurs because the person has not been able to adequately adapt to the change in altitude. Usually, this means that the change happened too rapidly for the body’s to adjust (e.g. travel by car, plane, cable car, or even running or cycling).

The human body needs to adapt slowly to the increase in height, so it is best to follow the standard rule “climb high, sleep low:” if you go to a high altitude, then rest the night in an area of lower altitude, and then progressively increase the height gained with each day and night. This is a simple trick, if possible, to help acclimatize.

We also recommend staying at the hotel in Quito, to ensure adequate coverage and medical assistance in the case that symptoms arrive. In addition, hotels are very experienced in handling this disease and can guide visitors accurately to resolve the situation.

Talk with the hotel concierge if you feel light-headed!

Severe Altitude Sickness

In exceptional cases and that respond to variables such as age, place of residence, health complications and more, there are cases of severe altitude sickness with the following symptoms:

  •  Loss of balance.
  • Changes in behavior
  • Severe headache not relieved by pain medicine
  • Dry cough initially, then continuous production of fluids
  • Trouble breathing at rest
Quito's sits pretty high at 9,350 feet

Treatment of altitude sickness

In cases of severe symptoms, urgent medical attention by a health professional is recommended.

For all other cases, it is important to follow these basic rules:

  • Hydration and food (light meals)
  • Mild pain relievers for headaches (to not forget to first ask about any allergies)
  • Rest for at least one night for the body to adjust to the lack of oxygen
  • Avoid excessive exercises on the first day of arrival in Quito
  • Do not ascend to higher altitudes until symptoms end

If the symptoms do not subside within 24 hours, visitors may consider descending to a lower height in order to stabilize.


San Francisco de Quito, located in Ecuador, captivates visitors with its remarkable elevation of approximately 9,000 feet above sea level. This high altitude often leads to altitude sickness, locally known as “soroche,” which manifests through symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, and fatigue. The decrease in oxygen molecules at higher altitudes affects the body, making acclimatization essential for a comfortable experience in Quito.

To prevent or alleviate altitude sickness in Quito, Ecuador, travelers can consult with their doctors regarding medications such as Acetazolamide, which helps mitigate the unpleasant symptoms. Additionally, staying hydrated, consuming carbohydrates, and avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and sleeping pills can contribute to a smoother adjustment to the altitude.

It is crucial to acclimatize slowly by following the “climb high, sleep low” approach and considering a stay at a hotel in Quito that can provide necessary medical assistance if symptoms persist. In severe cases, urgent medical attention is recommended, while milder symptoms can be managed through hydration, light meals, pain relievers, and adequate rest.

San Francisco de Quito, with its population of approximately [population of Quito] people, is a vibrant city that offers more than just its elevation. The city center is a bustling hub of activity, filled with historical sites, cultural attractions, and a wide range of culinary experiences. Whether exploring the narrow streets of the Old Town, visiting the iconic La Compañía Church, or taking in the panoramic views from El Panecillo, Quito promises a memorable journey.

By understanding and taking appropriate measures to cope with the effects of high elevation in Quito, visitors can fully enjoy the wonders of Quito’s breathtaking landscapes and vibrant city center.

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About Angel Nunez

Ecuador & Galapagos Travel Consultant, Blogger, Fitness & Health Aficionado, Amateur Photographer & Designer. Here to guide you through stories and visuals, what Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands & Peru have in store for you!

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