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

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. Others 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 noticable. 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!

Quito-Altitude-Sickness-Standing-on-Mountain
Pay attention to your body at high altitudes

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.

Quito-Altitude-Sickness-Hotel-concierge-helping-guests
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-Altitude-Sickness-Historical-center-of-quito
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.


About Keenan Ennis

Keenan Ennis studied Conservation and wildlife biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. This eventually lead him to a program in Ecuador studying hummingbirds and their keystone nutritional species in the Jama-Coaque Ecological Reserve. Since, he has worked with the critically endangered Bandurria Andina, or black-faced Ibis of the Andean Páramo. Through his ecological background, he provides an in depth insight into the conservation processes of the Galapagos Islands.

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