How to Prevent Altitude Sickness on Everest Base Camp

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness on Everest Base Camp

The Everest region is the highest region in Nepal situated at 4,000 meters with Mt. Everest 8848m being the tallest mountain in the world.

One of the major challenges that trekkers face while heading to Everest Base Camp or any other high altitude treks is dealing with High Altitude Sickness.

The altitude normally starts to affect us from 1,500 to 2,000 meters above. The higher we go up the altitude, the lower the air pressure gets which means the air keeps on getting thinner.

This also means there will be less oxygen with every breath you take.

Scientifically speaking, our bodies begin to adapt by breathing faster as we go higher and higher. This causes our bodies to produce more red blood cells to carry more oxygen. However, this takes time.

If we move too quickly into higher altitudes, then we are likely to suffer from oxygen deficiency in the forms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) which can be life threatening.

The combination of wind, strong sun, cold, low oxygen, and dry air creates a hostile atmosphere for trekkers on the high altitude. Altitude illness bothers anyone.

It is very important to be aware of this condition and its symptoms as well as preventions in order to ensure you have a safe trek. Everyone is vulnerable to High Altitude Sickness and doesn’t spare anyone.

Types of Altitude Sickness

1.         Acute Motion Sickness: you get this when one part of your balance-sensing system (inner ears, eyes, and sensory nerves) senses that your body is moving, but the other parts are not.

2.         High altitude pulmonary Edema (HAPE): this normally occurs when fluids build up within the lungs making breathing very difficult.

3.         High altitude cerebral Edema (HACE): this generally occurs when fluids build up within the brain which can make it swell with fluid changing the mental state of the person.

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Cause of Altitude Sickness

The prime cause of the High Altitude Sickness is the amount of oxygen available in the atmosphere goes on decreasing as the altitude increases.

The percentage of oxygen i.e 21% in the atmosphere remains constant but the density of the atmosphere decreases. And because of this when you take a breath, the oxygen available in the air becomes less.

The decrease in density of the atmosphere is not in line meaning the density will decrease more quickly with increasing altitude. This means that the impact of going from 20,000 to 30,000 feet is not as significant as going from 40,000 to 50,000 feet.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

There are many people throughout the world who make a living at higher altitudes. Their bodies have adjusted to the higher altitude over a long period of time in such a way that they aren’t easily affected.

During trekking, you might not have enough time to adjust so it’s very essential to be aware of the symptoms of the high altitude sickness.

a.           Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) Symptoms:

·             Headache

·             Fatigue

·             Nausea

·             Vomiting

·             Poor appetite

·             Dizziness (check this: home remedies for dizziness)

·             Poor sleep or sleep disturbance

Many trekkers will certainly experience some of the forms of AMS. The important thing is to observe if the symptoms are getting any worse? If they are really getting worse then you should descend back to altitudes of 500m-1000m at sleeping level to prevent further complications.

b.          High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

·             Severe headache

·             Mood Swings

·             Increase in Clumsiness

·             Confusion

·             Vision is blurred

·             Vomiting

You are suggested to take these symptoms seriously and treat them equally. Make sure not to leave a person with HACE symptoms unattended because it can be life threatening.

Descend immediately if such complications are seen. Give dexamethasone or acetazolamide medications if they are available with you.

People are likely to die within one hour of developing such symptoms so please descend to a lower altitude as soon as possible.

c.           High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

·             Trouble in Breathing

·             Constant Coughing

·             Exhaustion

·             Foam in Saliva

·             Blood seen in Saliva

·             Blueness in lips, tongue or nails

These symptoms are to be treated seriously as well. Just like the patient of HACE, you should not leave a person with the HAPE symptoms unattended.

Keep the victims upright. Please descend immediately when seen such symptoms. And also give nifedipine or acetazolamide medications if available with you.

A trekker can have AMS, HACE and HAPE all together or even separately. So be aware and take actions immediately.

Prevention and Treatment of Altitude Sickness

i.                               Avoid Energetic Activities

If you’re doing any strenuous activity, it’s likely that it will induce altitude sickness. And because of this, if you have symptoms that have been causing you to experience some discomfort, you are recommended to minimize the exhausting activity you’re doing.

Also, you have to make sure that you lower the weight in your backpack. And the porters are there to help you with your backpacks. You are suggested not to take part in optional side treks to the glaciers.

ii.                            Stay Hydrated

You need to ensure that you stay hydrated and don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol is likely to cause dehydration and worsens the symptoms of AMS.

Please remember to drink as much water as possible water and salt through food or rehydration powders.

If you want homemade rehydration drinks, you are recommended to have sprite and salt which are readily available in the mountains.

iii.                         Stay Clean

Make sure to keep your hands as clean as possible during meal times. Wash and use sanitizers and don’t contaminate your food with dirty hands.

It can cause major stomach problems which can ultimately cause dehydration problems at altitude which is something you’d want to avoid.

iv.                          Medications

One of the widely used medicines by the trekkers is Diamox or Acetazolamide tablets. This medicine helps the body to adjust to increasing levels of carbon dioxide due to the higher altitudes.

One dosage of 125mg to 250mg two times daily and starting two days prior the trek is usually appropriate as recommended by the NHS.

You should probably continue the dosage of 3 days once you have reached the highest altitude.

For the lower altitude treks such as the Poon Hill Trek, Diamox is not encouraged to take. However, for the Everest Base Camp Trek, you are highly recommended to take Diamox as written in the instructions above.

For other treks above 4000m altitude, you must either take the Diamox as instructed above or when you feel like you sensed any minor altitude sickness symptoms.

v.                             Reproductive organs & pregnancy at high altitude

If you experience heavy periods, then you are requested to consult with your physician about iron supplements.

The high altitude effects on the red blood cells which carry iron. There can also be a chance of increment of blood clots due to consumption of some contraceptive pills.

Do consult with your physician if you are taking contraceptive measures. And a very important side note, trekking during pregnancy at high altitude is highly not recommended.

Conclusion

The situation can get tricky during your trek but that doesn’t mean you can’t control it. You just need necessary methods while embarking upon such journey.

The situation can get tricky during your trek but that doesn’t mean you can’t control it. You just need necessary methods while embarking upon such journey.

Be careful and take care of yourself. You will need to stay away from complications.

Good luck!

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