Anyone who travels to high altitudes regularly has most likely heard of Diamox (acetazolamide), and probably even taken it. What is it?
In short, it’s a nifty little pill that helps you acclimate, thus reducing the chance you’ll experience altitude sickness.
Why should you take it?
To acclimate faster and prevent altitude sickness (AMS).
While I believe in acclimating naturally as much as you can, we all have lives, jobs and sometimes have to travel a bit to get to the next hike. Taking a few days to acclimate with all that usually isn’t in the cards.
This is why I look at Diamox as more of an “assist” rather than a replacement. Look at it the same way you look at vitamins: it’s always better to get the vitamins through food sources, but it isn’t always possible. Acclimate as much as humanly possible, then let Diamox do the rest.
Are there side effects?
Yes. Some people may feel nausea, though I never have. You should try it out on a low stakes hike to see how you do.
Diamox is also a diuretic, so you do need to increase your water intake. I make sure to start off really well hydrated by chugging a 32-ounce water bottle before hitting the trail, then continuing to drink steadily from there. I really haven’t noticed an excessive amount of urination, but I have noticed that within about an hour of taking it, I’m very, very thirsty and need to drink all of the water.
The weirdest and most frequent side effect I see is when it comes to carbonated beverages. Have a soda or beer after taking Diamox, and within just a few minutes it’s going to taste bitter, flat or both. This shouldn’t be an issue on the trail, though, because if you’re hydrating with Diet Coke and Sierra Nevada, you’re doing it wrong.
Does it work?
Absolutely! When my cousin got sick on Mt. Whitney, she was taking Diamox that had expired just a few weeks before. That was enough, though. The medication wasn’t effective and she got sick just a couple miles into the hike.
The year before, our whole group took the medication and summitted with no problems. We’re all believers in the stuff after that!
And don’t take Diamox after it expires. It loses effectiveness pretty much immediately.
Does Diamox mask symptoms of altitude sickness?
No, it doesn’t. It just provides an assist to help prevent you from getting sick in the first place. But for some people, it won’t matter.
You can rest assured that if you’re getting altitude sick, the Diamox is not going to mask your symptoms. If you’re taking Diamox and feeling altitude sick, stop and wait to see if you improve. If you don’t, turn around.
When should you take it?
Anytime you’re going to high altitudes. Anyone is at risk for AMS starting around 8,000 feet, whether you’ve had it before or not.
Your doctor can best advise, but I generally take it starting 24 hours before the climb, then continue during the climb. Drink it with a lot of water.
It’s also a good idea to have some extras on you in case you or another person gets sick. Taking a double or triple dose of Diamox when experiencing altitude sickness can help alleviate your symptoms (but you should still head down to fully recover).
Any questions? Please don’t ask me. This is not medical advice or gospel; it’s simply my own experience. I love Diamox, and it’s indispensable for a sea level-dweller like me.
For best results, consult with your doctor!