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Why do I feel sick when I exercise at a high altitude?

At high altitudes the air has the same amount of oxygen as at lower altitudes, but in high altitudes the pressure in the air is increased. In order for your body to properly exchange oxygen, there needs to be a pressure gradient. Gasses move from high partial pressure to low partial pressure. When we inhale and our lungs inflate, the volume increases and the pressure decreases, causing the air to rush in; when we exhale, the volume decreases and the pressure increases, causing the air to rush out.

An unacclimatized athlete will have greater risk of high-altitude illnesses. You can develop cerebral and pulmonary syndromes. It can be fatal if symptoms go unnoticed or untreated. To avoid high-altitude illness you can descend to lower altitude or acclimatize yourself. Showing up a few weeks early to practice and help your body adjust to the high-altitude can reduce your risk of illness. (This answer provided for NATA by the Marist College Athletic Training Education Program)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.