High Altitude Headache (HAH)

A headache is the most common symptom that one experiences usually over 3000 meters above sea level. Other common complaints are loss of appetite, nausea and sleep disturbances.

A high altitude headache must have at least 2 of the following characteristics:

  1. Pain on both sides of the head
  2. Located to the frontal or frontotemporal area
  3. Dull or pressure-like quality
  4. Mild or moderate intensity
  5. Aggravated by exertion, movement, straining, coughing, or bending

The headache must develop within 24 hours after ascent and resolves within eight hours of descent.


A HAH can be prevented by a slower ascent, usually 300 meters per day, allowing 2 days to become acclimated before engaging in strenuous exercise at high altitudes, avoiding alcohol, and increasing hydration.


Over the counter medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen have proven to be effective in treating HAH. Triptans are also effective.

Acetazolamide may reduce susceptibility to acute high altitude sickness.

Tanesha Reynolds, DNP, FNP-BC, Certified in Headache Medicine

If you are experiencing a HAH that has not gone away, please schedule an appointment to see one of our providers at MCHN.