High-altitude illness is the collective term for acute mountain sickness (AMS), high-altitude cerebral oedema (HACE), and high-altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE). The pathophysiology of these syndromes is not completely understood, although studies have substantially contributed to the current understanding of several areas. These areas include the role and potential mechanisms of brain swelling in AMS and HACE, mechanisms accounting for exaggerated pulmonary hypertension in HAPE, and the role of inflammation and alveolar-fluid clearance in HAPE. Only limited information is available about the genetic basis of high-altitude illness, and no clear associations between gene polymorphisms and susceptibility have been discovered. Gradual ascent will always be the best strategy for preventing high-altitude illness, although chemoprophylaxis may be useful in some situations. Despite investigation of other agents, acetazolamide remains the preferred drug for preventing AMS. The next few years are likely to see many advances in the understanding of the causes and management of high-altitude illness.