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Altitude sickness in Switzerland

Hello all, has anyone experienced altitude sickness while vacationing in Switzerland? We plan to stop at places that are over 3000 meters. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all in advance.

Posted by
724 posts

I went to the doctor yesterday and inquired about this very thing. She told me it would only be a problem if I were staying "up there" for an extended length of time. We only plan on visiting for a few hours. She did say to make sure I stay hydrated so that is my plan. I hope this helps you!

Posted by
12040 posts

Acute altitude sickness can not be predicted or prevented. But it's unlikely to occur at the altitudes you'll visit. Most people notice a slight loss of endurance, and maybe an increased baseline breathing and heart rate, but that's it. If you develope a severe headache, nausea, vomiting, or confusion...descend immediately, and seek medical attention. But this probably will not happen.

Posted by
5780 posts

Stay within your limits. Walk, not run etc.
When it comes to altitude sickness, fitness alone doesn’t grant you immunity, warns Dr. Michael Koehle of the University of British Columbia’s Altitude Medicine Clinic. In fact, very fit hikers often go too fast and overexert themselves, leaving them even more vulnerable to problems, he says.
Poor fitness can be a particular problem for hikers travelling in large groups, who may feel pressure to keep up with the rest of the group and be hesitant to complain if they notice symptoms like headache, nausea and dizziness. One study found that people trekking in groups have twice the rate of helicopter evacuation as those trekking independently, Dr. Koehle notes.
“Whenever counselling groups, I always recommend that communication among members is just about the most important factor,” he says.

The idea that fitness doesn't protect you from altitude sickness
seemed a little counterintuitive to me – but I guess it comes down to
hiking within your limits, and (most importantly) giving yourself time
to acclimatize.

Posted by
4637 posts

Overwhelming majority of people don't have to be concerned about high altitude sickness in the Alps. Himalaya and Andes - that's different. Generally once you are above 4000 meters (over 14500 feet) you should not sleep higher than 300 meters (about 1000 feet) above the place you spent previous night. You can go higher but return down for sleeping. And indeed your physical fitness does not predict if you get HAS or not. While trekking in Himalaya my younger and in better shape friend got HAS in the elevation of 4500 meters (about 15000 feet). He had to be evacuated down. I got more than 3000 feet higher with no symptoms of HAS. You should be safe in Switzerland. Mountain huts are nowhere close to those elevations. Healthy human tolerates short stay in 5000 meters even without acclimatization. On the trip to Tibet (after just one day stay in Lhasa) we went by bus to see some beautiful mountain lake and cross the mountain pass at 5000 meters where we stayed for about 15 to 20 minutes. Most people tolerated that without problem, few had headache. So enjoy Switzerland without fear of HAS.

Posted by
295 posts

I typically don't have problems with altitude sickness. However, my daughter did have a problem when we went to the top of the Jungfrau joch. The highest point in the Berner Oberland area. She got a bad headache and we needed to come down quicker than I had originally planned. It impacted the experience. She is young but maybe she was dehydrated or maybe her age was a factor. I would suggest drinking a lot of water and taking your time to reach the top. I have been in this area a dozen times and never had an issue. When I was at the top of the Jungfrau I did see others getting sick. That didn't help.

Posted by
10344 posts

To the OP & others: I would carefully read Tom's post: It's professional advice.

Posted by
5780 posts

Overwhelming majority of people don't have to be concerned about high altitude sickness in the Alps.

Original question asked about elevations in excess of 3,000 MASL, 10,000 feet for Americans. While 3000 MASL is not likely to result in acute effects for most healthy individuals, exercise at higher elevations may be felt by those doing more strenuous activities than walking on level surfaces.

Chris Carmichael's thoughts:

Most people from sea level don’t notice any difference at elevations up to about 5,000 feet above sea level, and between 5,000 and 8,000 feet most healthy people feel perfectly fine at rest and might get out of breath more quickly while exercising. The impact of “moderate” elevation is relatively minor because your lungs are very good at extracting oxygen from air, and even as the air gets thinner you’re still able to satisfy the body’s needs.
Once you get above about 8,000 feet, things are a bit different. At these higher elevations people who normally live at sea level get out of breath just walking up a flight of stairs. Your heart rate and breathing rates at rest will be slightly elevated as your body tries to pull more air through the lungs so it can grab the oxygen it wants. And when you exercise you reach your maximum sustainable pace or intensity level much more quickly than at sea level.

Posted by
9674 posts

I do acknowledge Tom's excellent advice.

I will relate 2 experiences. Last year on the BOE we went up the Schilthorn early in the AM. A couple of people in our group got a headache and some nausea while we were up there which resolved when we descended. No one felt ill when we did the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike which was a lower elevation.

Next experience, similar to one upthread regarding fitness or lack thereof not being an indicator. A few years ago my brother, SIL and I drove Beartooth Highway NE of Yellowstone park which goes to 10,000'. My brother was very fit then, he's a forester and used to working at 4,000-5,000'. My SIL and I, both in moderate shape, were not used to working at an elevation higher than we live (2800'). He started getting sick with a headache and queasy stomach which lasted for a day or so, then we went over another pass in Yellowstone which is about 9,000' and he starting feeling ill again. Neither of us gals had any problem. He was miserable enough that we did not do the hiking we had planned.

Posted by
10344 posts

As you mentioned, I've been on the Beartooth Highway NE of Yellowstone!
A real adventure, but not if you get symptoms of high altitude sickness.
When we did it a couple of years ago, I had failed to notice the altitude marked on the map. We got to 10,000 feet and I said to my wife, "Oh well, how much higher can it get." I kept looking at the GPS altitude, and when it came up to 10,950 feet, it had my full attention: how much farther up could this paved road go?
That was when we topped out. Quite a road.
I would probably have a headache if I tried to sleep at 11,000 feet; but to be there for less than an hour was not a problem.
But obviously is for some.
I think this is a very individual thing, where one person's experience may be different from another's.

Posted by
3336 posts

We go up into the high Sierra Nevada mountains here in California frequently as well as peaks in other high ranges around the world, including Switzerland.
My plan, that works for me every time, is to drink about twice the amount of water that I usually do in the few days leading up to a major altitude change. The morning of the altitude change I take two Extra Strength Tylenol and then I take two more mid-way through the day. For me, this preempts any issues with headache. For nausea, I make sure that I eat well in the morning, high protein. Doesn't always prevent nausea entirely but I find that if I don't have a headache it isn't as bad and doesn't ruin my day!

Posted by
9674 posts

Kent, yes that is a gorgeous stretch of road, isn't it? I drive it every couple of years, but if I am with others, I always want to drive. Those switchbacks on the Red Lodge end scare the bejeebers out of me, but if I can know I am near the center line I'm OK. I will occasionally feel headachy if I go in to Yellowstone via West Yellowstone which is 6600+' but I am never sure if it is elevation or slight dehydration from a 10 hr drive. Now I try to start pushing fluids about an hour out of West Yellowstone which seems to help.

Posted by
5780 posts

Excerpts from the CDC:

"...hypoxia. At 10,000 ft (3,000 m), for example, the inspired PO2 is only 69% of sea-level value. The degree of hypoxic stress depends on altitude, rate of ascent, and duration of exposure. Sleeping at high altitude produces the most hypoxia; day trips to high altitude with return to low altitude are much less stressful on the body."

" Inadequate acclimatization may lead to altitude illness in any traveler going to 8,000 ft (2,500 m) or higher. Susceptibility and resistance to altitude illness are genetic traits, and no simple screening tests are available to predict risk. Risk is not affected by training or physical fitness. Children are equally susceptible as adults; people aged >50 years have slightly lower risk. How a traveler has responded to high altitude previously is the most reliable guide for future trips, but is not infallible. "

"Travelers with medical conditions, such as heart failure, myocardial ischemia (angina), sickle cell disease, or any form of pulmonary insufficiency, should be advised to consult a physician familiar with high-altitude medical issues before undertaking high-altitude travel. The risk for new ischemic heart disease in previously healthy travelers does not appear to be increased at high altitudes."

Tips for acclimatization

Ascend gradually, if possible. Try not to go directly from low
altitude to >9,000 ft (2,750 m) sleeping altitude in 1 day. Once at

9,000 ft (2,750 m), move sleeping altitude no higher than 1,600 ft (500 m) per day, and plan an extra day for acclimatization every 3,300
ft (1,000 m).

Consider using acetazolamide to speed acclimatization, if abrupt
ascent is unavoidable.

Avoid alcohol for the first 48 hours.

Participate in only mild exercise for the first 48 hours.

Having a high-altitude exposure at >9,000 ft (2,750 m) for 2 nights or
more, within 30 days before the trip, is useful.

Posted by
31465 posts


I've never experienced "altitude sickness" in Switzerland, but have experienced some of the symptoms that Tom described ("slight loss of endurance, and maybe an increased baseline breathing and heart rate"). I've never had any discomfort or problems at the Schilthorn (~10K feet), but the effects at the Jungfraujoch were an entirely different situation (the top elevation at the observatory is ~12K feet). Even something as simple as climbing stairs took some effort.

Most people are only at the higher altitudes for a few hours and aren't sleeping there, so that may minimize problems.

Posted by
12040 posts

"The morning of the altitude change I take two Extra Strength Tylenol and then I take two more mid-way through the day."

I would strongly recommend against this, at least at 3,000m and above. Tylenol won't prevent the cerebral swelling that causes altitude sickness, but it could mask the early symptoms. And early symptom recognition is the cue that you need to descend.

Posted by
2564 posts

My wife and I did the daytrip to the Schilthorn, I had no problems but she became uncomfortable and we had to descend sooner than expected. But walking around Murren she was OK.

Looking around at the summit, I didn't see people who were visibly ill or uncomfortable, but perhaps they were sitting in a cafe with their head between their legs.