Acute mountain sickness is a syndrome that occurs when unacclimatized persons ascend rapidly to high altitudes. It is postulated that cerebral edema causes its symptoms. Since dexamethasone is useful in treating some forms of cerebral edema, we investigated its role in the prevention of acute mountain sickness. Using a double-blind crossover design, we exposed eight young men to a simulated altitude of 4570 m (15,000 ft) on two occasions. By random assignment, each subject received dexamethasone (4 mg every 6 hours) or placebo for 48 hours before and throughout the 42-hour exposure. The presence of symptoms of acute mountain sickness was established by two methods: a questionnaire and an interview by a physician. Dexamethasone significantly reduced the symptoms of acute mountain sickness. During dexamethasone treatment, the cerebral-symptom score (mean +/- S.E.) decreased from 1.09 +/- 0.18 to 0.26 +/- 0.08, and the respiratory-symptom score decreased from 0.64 +/- 0.09 to 0.31 +/- 0.06 (both, P less than 0.05). As judged by the interviewing physician, the symptom score decreased from 1.10 +/- 0.11 to 0.28 +/- 0.07 (P = 0.01). We conclude that dexamethasone may be effective in preventing the symptoms of acute mountain sickness.