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Breathing Easy in Ladakh: Navigating High Altitude Sickness

How to acclimatize in Leh Ladakh Image


Ladakh is a region in India that is surrounded by the towering mountains of Himalayas and has a rich cultural history. Its high peaks and other unique features make it both interesting and difficult to visit. When hikers and explorers go to this beautiful area, they are often met with the effects of high altitude sickness, a physical condition that can cast a shadow over their experience.

High altitude sickness, also called acute mountain sickness (AMS), is common in Ladakh because it is between 9,800 feet (3,000 metres) and well over 17,000 feet (5,182 metres) above sea level. Humans are used to living at lower levels, where the air is more thick and has more oxygen. As you move up to higher levels, the air gets thinner and has less oxygen in it. This decrease in oxygen availability can lead to a series of physiological adjustments that some individuals may find challenging to adapt to. Hence leading to High Altitude sickness. 

In this guide, we’ll talk about what causes high altitude sickness in Ladakh, what its signs are, and how it might be prevented. By learning about the details of this situation, travellers can be better prepared to enjoy the beauty of Ladakh and reduce the risks that come with its high altitudes.

What can cause High Altitude Sickness

When you travel to Ladakh there is a sudden shift in air pressure and oxygen levels, leads to altitude sickness. If you go to a high altitude without allowing your body time to acclimatise to reduced oxygen, you can have symptoms. Additionally, the amount of physical activity such as trekking, hiking, and skiing, which requires effort can also cause AMS at higher elevations.

Also, the low air pressure may also cause blood vessels to leak liquids. Your lungs and brain get flooded with fluid because of this leaking. Ignoring moderate or severe symptoms might result in a scenario that is life-threatening.

Symptoms of High Altitude Sickness

The symptoms of High Altitude Sickness (HAS ) or Acute Mountain Sickness(AMS) are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite

Recognizing these signs and promptly addressing them is crucial to ensuring a safer high-altitude experience.

Types of AMS

There are three major forms of AMS as listed below. 

  1. Mild AMS
    This is the most common type, and it can cause headaches, tiredness, nausea, and feeling dizzy. Most of the time, these symptoms are easy to deal with and can get better with rest and hydration.
  2. Moderate AMS
    At this stage, the symptoms get worse and new ones may appear, such as vomiting, shortness of breath, and a worsening headache. If the symptoms get to this point, it is best to go down to a lower level.
  3. Severe AMS
    This is the worst kind of AMS and can lead to problems that could kill you. Some of the symptoms are extreme shortness of breath, confusion, inability to walk, Swelling in the brain [HACE], and fluid buildup in the lungs [HAPE]. At this point, it’s important to descend to a lower level immediately and get medical help.

To stay safe at high altitudes, you should know what the signs of AMS are and how it gets worse.

Mild High Altitude Sickness


  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems


  • Descend to a lower altitude
  • Rest for 24-48 hrs.
  • Drink Water Frequently
  • Take medicine for headaches. 
  • Take Diamox (as advice)

Modrate High Altitude Sickness


  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coordination problems
  • Chest Tightness


  • Descend to a lower altitude
  • Rest for 24-48 hrs.
  • Drink Water Frequently
  • Take medicine for headaches.
  • Use Oxygen Cylinders

Severe High Altitude Sickness [HAPE & HACE]


  • Shortness of breath, even at rest
  • Inability to walk
  • Chest tightness
  • Swelling in Brain [HACE]
  • Excess fluids in Lungs [HAPE]


  • Descend to a lower altitude
  • Hospitalization
  • Use of respirator
  • Take medicine for headaches.
  • Use of dexamethasone

Major places in ladakh & AMS Risk

Based on the altitude and past case history, we have categorized the AMS regions of Ladakh into 4 zones as listed below. 

  1. Low Risk Zone
    There is no risk of AMS as they are low altitude and have a lot of greenery to produce oxygen. 
  2. Medium Risk Zone
    These areas have a minimum risk, and travelers can get acclimatized effortlessly. 
  3. High-Risk Zone
    These areas are of very high altitude and need gradually ascend. One should note that the risk of AMS is relatively high here and should not spend more than 24 – 48 hrs here. 

Low Risk Zone

Altitude less than 7000 feet

  • Manali
  • Jispa
  • Srinagar
  • Keylong

Modrate Risk Zone

Altitude between 7000 – 11000 feet

  • Leh
  • Nubra Valley
  • Kargil
  • Rohtang Pass

High Risk Zone

Altitude above 12000 feet

Who are at risk of AMS

Altitude sickness may strike anybody. Your risk does not appear to be affected by your age, sex, or overall health. You could be more vulnerable if you:

  1. Have a lung or heart condition: If at all feasible, your doctor may advise avoiding high altitudes.
  2. Pregnant: Before going to a high-altitude region, consult your doctor.
  3. Live at a low altitude: Living at a low Altitude puts you at a higher risk for symptoms since your body isn’t accustomed to higher elevations. Know the signs of altitude sickness and how to cure it if you plan to visit Ladakh.
  4. Previously had altitude sickness: If you’ve ever had altitude sickness, see your doctor about treatment and prevention before your next trip.

How to Prevent High Altitude sickness

The following are a few points to remember and take care of while visiting the High Altitude region of Ladakh. 

  1. Gradual Ascension: By gradually ascending to a higher altitude, you can give your body time to acclimatize. Avoid rapid increases in altitudes during the first 24 to 48 hours, especially. 
  2. Hydration: Drink plenty of water and other non-alcoholic beverages. Keeping yourself hydrated helps your body adapt to lower levels of oxygen and helps you get used to the altitude.
  3. Diet: Eat a well-balanced diet high in carbs and low in salt and fats. At high altitudes, heavy meals can stress your digestive system.
  4. Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco: Don’t consume alcohol and don’t smoke because they can cause dehydration and take more time for acclimatization. 
  5. Rest: After reaching Leh, give yourself time to sleep and take rest. Getting enough sleep helps you adjust to your surroundings and feel better generally.
  6. Medication: Talk to a doctor or nurse before your trip about medicines that can help you get used to the altitude, such as acetazolamide (Diamox). 
  7. Avoid Stress: During the first couple of days of your trip to Ladakh, minimize strenuous activities. Gradually increase physical activity as your body adjusts.
  8. Stay Warm: Dress in layers to stay warm because temperatures can drop a lot at higher levels.
  9. Stay Aware of Symptoms: Keep an eye out for the signs of AMS in yourself and other passengers. If your symptoms get worse, descend to a lower altitude.
  10. Travel with a Group: If possible, travel with others. They can help monitor your condition and provide assistance if needed.
How to Prevent High Altitude Sickness Image

Remember that AMS can happen to anyone, no matter how old they are or how fit they are. When traveling to high-altitude places like Ladakh, it’s important to put your health and safety first. If your AMS symptoms don’t go away or get worse, you should seek medical attention immediately.


Ladakh, with its stunning landscapes and soaring altitudes, is a destination that captivates travelers from around the world. However, the high altitude of this region can pose a challenge for visitors, leading to acute mountain sickness (AMS).

We hope we have helped you understand the causes, symptoms, and preventive measures of high altitude sickness in Ladakh. By being well-informed and prepared, you can make the most of your Ladakh adventure while prioritizing your health and well-being.

Remember to take it slow, stay hydrated, and seek medical attention if necessary. With these tips, you can enjoy the beauty of Ladakh without compromising your health.


What is High Altitude Sickness (AMS)?

High Altitude Sickness, also known as AMS, is a medical condition that can occur when you ascend to higher altitudes quickly. It’s caused by reduced oxygen levels at high elevations and can lead to symptoms like headache, nausea, and fatigue.

How common is AMS in Ladakh?

High Altitude Sickness is quite common in Ladakh due to its high altitudes. Even fit and healthy individuals can experience it. It’s essential to be aware of the symptoms and take preventive measures while traveling to Ladakh. 

What are the symptoms of High Altitude sickness?

Symptoms include

  • Headache,
  • Nausea,
  • Dizziness,
  • Fatigue,
  • Trouble sleeping, and
  • Shortness of breath.

If you notice these signs, it’s crucial to take them seriously.

How can I prevent AMS during my Ladakh trip?

To prevent AMS, ascend gradually, stay hydrated, eat a balanced diet, avoid alcohol, and listen to your body. Give yourself time to acclimate before engaging in strenuous activities.

Can I take any medication to prevent AMS?

Before your trip, you might consider discussing medications like acetazolamide (Diamox) with your doctor. These medications can aid in acclimatization, but it’s best to get personalized advice.

What should I do if I experience AMS symptoms?

If you experience symptoms, don’t ignore them. Rest, drink water, and avoid further ascent until you feel better. If symptoms worsen, then report to your tour manager. 

Is High Altitude sickness dangerous?

High Altitude sickness can be mild, but it can become serious if left untreated or symptoms progress. Severe AMS can lead to life-threatening conditions like High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE).

Are there any age or health factors that increase the risk of AMS?

AMS can affect anyone regardless of age or health or gender. However, individuals with pre-existing respiratory or cardiac conditions might be more susceptible.

Can I travel to Ladakh if I'm pregnant?

Pregnant individuals should consult their healthcare provider before traveling to high altitudes. It’s important to consider potential risks and get medical advice.

Can children experience AMS in Ladakh?

Children are not immune to AMS. Parents should pay close attention to their children’s well-being and symptoms, especially if they are too young to communicate.

We DO NOT recommend traveling to Ladakh with children’s age less than 5 years. 

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