everest base camp altitude sickness

‘Altitude Sickness’ is a word that explains itself. It is a type of sickness that you are likely to suffer as you go to higher altitudes. You have to know and prepare for this if you are looking to come to trek Nepal, and especially in Everest Base Camp.

At low altitudes such as places where the atmospheric pressure is close to the sea level, oxygen is available in plenty. As you go trekking, the altitude increases. With an increase in altitude, there is a decrease in oxygen level in the air.

Low oxygen levels mean that the body cannot function to its full capacity. Muscles get exhausted quickly and fatigue sets in. Therefore, you have to pay a lot of attention to the types, causes and the ways to prevent altitude sickness.

When untreated or not paid proper attention, altitude sickness leads to severe physical problems. If these problems go untreated, it may lead to potential death as well.

Death due to Altitude Sickness at EBC

With modern technological inventions, travel routes have been far safer than they were 20 years ago. The trekking trails are wider and safer, and the trekking gear optimizes performance.

But,

There are exceptional cases when the altitude sickness took the lives of a few people in the  Base Camp.

Altitude Sickness took the life of an Australian man, Matthew Jones in 2017. This was confirmed on March last year. Before that, Rachel Burker, a UK resident also lost her life because her altitude sickness remained untreated.

In 2014, in the same year  Rachel Burke and  Debra Wilding, a mother also lost her life to altitude sickness at the Base Camp.

Quick Facts about Altitude Sickness

  • Altitude Sickness typically affects people when they cross the 2400 meter mark.
  • There are three types of mountain sicknesses – High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HAPE), and Acute Motion Sickness
  • It affects people of all age and sex equally.
  • There are various preventive measures available but you should descend down as soon as possible.

Types of Altitude Sickness

Acute Motion Sickness

Acute Motion Sickness is a type of altitude sickness which is mild in nature. You experience this form of sickness when one of your sensory organs that is responsible for your balance such as the inner ears, eyes and sensory nerves feels that your body is moving. At the same time, the other senses feel that your body is stationary.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

This is a dangerous condition that involves the forming of fluids in the lungs. This fluid prevents the air spaces in the lungs from filling up with new and fresh oxygen This means that the person lacks in fresh oxygen.

As the body lacks fresh oxygen at high altitude, it is extremely difficult to maintain any energy in the body. Simple tasks of walking or carrying things become difficult.  Ones who have already suffered from HAPE are more prone to getting HAPE again.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

This is another threatening condition where a fluid is built up. But, the fluid is built up in the brain. This fluid may result in conditions such as hallucinations, confusion, and inability to think.

HACE has affected a mere 1% of people who have crossed 3000-meter mark. The quicker people ascend the mountains without properly adjusting to the altitude, the more they are likely to suffer from HACE.

Symptoms

As with all diseases, the various forms of altitude sicknesses can be diagnosed with the following symptoms:

Acute Mountain Sickness

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness, as well as poor sleep, becomes increasingly high
  • Acute Mountain Sickness shows the same effects as a hangover.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

  • The symptoms are visible 1-2 days after it has affected you.
  • Difficulty in catching a breath,  as the path of fresh air in your lungs gets blocked.
  • Difficulty in breathing even when you are resting.
  • The rate at which your heart beats may also rise.
  • Symptoms similar to Acute Mountain Sickness might also be observed.
  • A cough that is difficult to stop and foam in saliva might be observed
  • Saliva might contain blood.
  • Your lips, nails, and tongue might slowly turn blue.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

  • A severe headache.
  • Vomiting and exhaustion.
  • Blurry visions.
  • Difficulty to walk heel-in-toe in a straight path.

Preventive Measures

Appropriate Training

Training is the biggest way to prevent altitude sickness. Although there is no way of guaranteeing that you can avoid altitude sickness, appropriate training is the safest bet.

Training such as swimming, walking, strength training, and running keeps your muscles active, healthy and strong. Practicing with elevation masks might help you develop appropriate strength in muscles.

Staying Hydrated

Water is indeed a medicine. Especially when it comes to prevention of altitude sickness. You can also have salt or powders that help in rehydration. Salt is available in plenty in the mountains.

Another way of keeping the water levels high is avoiding alcohol. Alcohol decreases the water content in the body, eventually risking altitude sickness.

Medication

Many trekkers and mountaineers consume Diamox to help in the acclimatization process. It might not be available in all the places where you are looking to travel to. So, see if it is available in your country.

Everybody reacts differently to Diamox. You can consult your physician to know if you are likely to suffer from the side effects of Diamox.

Cleanliness

The cleaner your hands are while eating, the fewer chances you have of catching diseases. Trekkers should use soap water or hand sanitizers to keep your hand germ free.

Especially when you are high up in the mountains where there might not be excellent toilet facilities, cleanliness becomes even more important. Major stomach problems might lead to dehydration and prone to altitude sickness.

Going Slow

You wouldn’t want to increase unnecessary strain on your body by going fast. Going slow makes your body more familiar with the oxygen levels in your body.

As you climb higher, you need to give yourself an extra amount of sleep. Don’t go over 300 meters of altitude in one day. This keeps your body healthy.

Descent

In case you happen to catch altitude sickness of any kind, descent to lower altitude. Inhale extra oxygen or increase the air pressure to reduce the risk.

There are various options available for people who trek to the Everest region in case you want to descend. There are helicopter facilities you can charter. Porters and your friends might help you in the descent as well.

Conclusion

Altitude sickness can affect you in various forms. It can affect you mildly or affect your brain or your lungs. These illnesses have their own symptoms, if not treated well, they can lead to death.

So, you should pay utmost attention to all the information about altitude sickness. You should keep in mind the things that you can do to prevent it. And, in case, along the trek to Everest you don’t feel good, you should track back. Your health is everything!