Don’t Cut Your Ski Trip Short This Year – Be Ready to Prevent HAPE

Haleigh Hafner |
HAPE Exposure Level
The level of exposure you have to HAPE is dependent upon your rate of ascent and the time spent at that altitude.

HAPE, which stands for High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, is a result of an intense version of altitude sickness. HAPE causes swelling in the lungs, and it can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. Altitude sickness will develop into HAPE within 24 hours of ascending to a higher altitude than what your body is currently used to. As the ski season quickly creeps upon us, the danger of HAPE must be at the forefront of every skier or snowboarder’s mind – especially if your family lives at a lower altitude. The higher and more frequently you ascend, the more at risk you become to developing HAPE symptoms. To prevent altitude sickness from developing into HAPE, the CDC recommends ascending no more than 3,300 feet per day.

HAPE X-Ray and CT Scan
Chest X-Ray (right) and CT scan (left) of a mountaineer with HAPE

HAPE symptoms include all the common characteristics of altitude sickness accompanied by some new and very scary symptoms that require immediate medical attention. One may experience fever, intense chest pain, shortness of breath, joint pain, and bodily exhaustion. People are more prone to experiencing HAPE if she or they has a pre-existing condition of a heart or lung disease, diabetes, or pregnancy. If you or a family member begins to experience any indicators of HAPE, move to a lower level of altitude and seek medical attention immediately. 


If you, like myself, are a low-altitude resident, be prepared to take serious precautionary measures to prevent HAPE from developing into something even more serious. If left untreated, HAPE can mutate into HACE, which causes swelling and confusion in the brain. However, if you strategically ascend to your desired altitude level, drink lots of water, and increase your exercise level, HAPE and HACE can easily be prevented.

HAPE Diagram
Diagram of lungs affected by HAPE (Mayo Clinic)


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