Health advice and altitude sickness in Nepal
Becoming ill whilst in a foreign country can be a worrying experience, and whilst Nepal has some good hospitals and fantastic doctors, you should take precautions in the hope that you never have to meet them!
The added factor of Nepal’s altitude presents an extra risk, and it’s wise to know how to spot and deal with altitude sickness, in case it becomes a problem for you or your travel partners.
We’ve prepared some tips on staying healthy on your holiday, as well as what to do if you do become ill.
The first rule – buy some travel insurance!
Although this isn’t a specific requirement to travel to Nepal, we strongly advise taking out a travel insurance policy before you arrive. Make sure that it provides comprehensive medical cover, and that all of the activities you plan to do are listed. Many cheaper policies will not cover trekking above a certain altitude, for example, so you could be left with a huge bill if you get into trouble in the mountains.
Am I likely to get sick in Nepal?
Hygiene levels in Nepal may be lower than what you’re used to as home, so make sure you wash your hands regularly and don’t drink water straight from the tap. You can also minimise your risk by not having ice in your drinks, avoiding ready-peeled fruit and choosing hot meals wherever possible.
You should always visit a doctor or travel clinic before travelling. Due to its altitude, Nepal has less disease than many other countries, but you may still need some immunisations and malaria also exists in small parts of the country.
What to do if you get sick in Nepal
In the first instance, you should speak to your guide, tour leader or the staff at your hotel for local advice – they will often go out of their way to help you. The guides used by our partners at Royal Mountain Travel are trained in first aid by the Red Cross, and if you’ve booked with Royal Mountain you’ll also have access to their 24-hour local emergency number.
If you are trekking independently, we would strongly advise bringing a comprehensive first aid kit, researching the locations of any medical facilities and noting emergency contact numbers before you set off. Basic medical facilities are available on many of the main trekking routes, but may be spaced quite far apart.
If you take any regular medication or are prone to sickness, we would advise bringing medication with you to Nepal. You’ll find pharmacies in most Nepalese towns and cities, but they may not stock everything you need and in rural areas you’ll find only very basic supplies, if any.
If you need to visit a hospital or clinic in Nepal, then the best ones are found in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Elsewhere, good facilities are more difficult to come by.
How to contact the Emergency Services in Nepal
If you find yourself in a position where you need to contact the Emergency Services directly, the relevant numbers are below.
Police: Dial 100
Fire: Dial 101
Ambulance: Dial 102
We recommend saving these numbers in your phone before traveling to Nepal.
Using your travel insurance for medical reasons
We strongly advise taking out comprehensive travel insurance before traveling to Nepal, and you should ensure that it covers everything you plan to do on your trip. For example, many cheaper policies will not cover trekking at altitudes above 2500m, which can be a bit a problem in Nepal!
The following hospitals and clinics work with insurance companies directly to cover medical expenses;
- CIWEC Clinic – Kathmandu & Pokhara
- Norvic Hospital, Kathmandu
- Grande Hospital, Kathmandu
- Vayodha Hospital, Kathmandu
- New Era Health Center, Kathmandu
Other hospitals and clinics may require you to cover the bill upfront and then claim back on your insurance later.
Will I get altitude sickness in Nepal?
Altitude sickness can affect even the most healthy people, so it’s worth being prepared for the possibility. It is most common above 2500m altitude, so you’re unlikely to be significantly affected in Kathmandu (1400m) or much of the rest of the country. You should still take it easy for your first few days in Nepal, just in case.
Many Nepalese trekking routes will take you far above 2500m, and you should have a medical check-up, learn the symptoms and pack sensibly before you commit to one of these treks.
What are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
Altitude sickness is caused by thinner air with far less oxygen than your body is used to, and the symptoms range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. You should look out for headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, trouble sleeping and severe fatigue.
On the more serious end of the scale, acute breathing difficulty, circulation problems and blood in your saliva requires urgent attention.
Preventing altitude sickness
Your biggest weapon against altitude sickness is sensible planning. If you are joining a trek with a reputable company, the route will have been planned to allow you to acclimatise, and your guide will be trained to advise trekkers and deal with situations which might arise. If you’re trekking independently, we’d advise taking the time to plan your route carefully and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
Before trekking at altitude, you should consider going easy on the alcohol and caffeine in the weeks before, getting plenty of sleep and making sure that you’re keeping in decent shape to reduce the effects.
Always take on plenty of water, bring warm clothes and protect yourself against the sun, as these factors can all make the sickness seem far worse. You can also visit a pharmacy before you travel, as certain medications are proven to help with altitude sickness. We’re not able to give specific advice on medicines.
Dealing with altitude sickness
If you or someone in your party begins to feel some of the effects of altitude sickness, you should immediately alert your guide or tour leader. If you’re trekking independently, then the first thing you should do is to stop ascending. You’ll often find that with a little rest, your symptoms will ease and you can carefully continue. If your symptoms are not improving or are getting worse, you should descend immediately, take on fluids and wait for your body to adjust.
In the most serious cases, not descending can be fatal. If you or someone in your party is having difficulty performing basic tasks, forming sentences or answering simple questions, you must descend immediately, even if it’s the middle of the night.