Why Everest Base Camp Trekkers suffer Altitude Illness
Altitude illness is a group of symptoms that occurs when you move to higher altitude too quickly as you will lack the oxygen and air pressure that your body demands. Air pressure and oxygen are adequate at sea level, and below 8000ft, however, it starts to drop as you ascend the mountain.
In short, altitude illness occurs when the air pressure and oxygen level changes, and your body is not able to adapt to the change. Acute mountain sickness is the least dangerous of several altitude sicknesses, and it affects half of all people beginning from sea level and climb to 14,000 feet of elevating without getting enough rest. Here we Present you things to know to avoid altitude illness or acute mountain illness while you are on your way to the summit Everest from Everest Base Camp.
How is altitude illness caused?
Mostly, altitude illness is caused due to the lack of oxygen. Even though the oxygen remains 21% in the atmosphere, the driving pressure decreases the higher we go.
Enough amount of oxygen is forced into the capillaries of our lungs, giving saturation of oxygen in the blood and throughout the tissues by driving pressure at sea level.
However, as one starts to climb to places with high altitude, the driving pressure decreases, which causes scarcity of oxygen into the capillaries of our lungs and, consequently, less oxygen in our blood and tissues.
Up to 8,000 feet, there will be sufficient driving pressures to provide adequate oxygen levels. But, the pathophysiological changes start to manifest when you break the 8000 feet barrier due to the lack of oxygen in the altitude.
What are altitude illness symptoms?
The most common of the three altitude illnesses is AMS, which is generally the predecessor of the two other symptoms and is also more severe. The symptoms of AMS are as follows:
- Shortness of Breath
- Loss of appetite
- Social withdrawal
- Swelling extremities
At the altitude above 8,000feet, AMS may set within days or even hours. Symptoms usually start slowly, so while trekking, it is essential to continuously watch out for early warnings such as excessive tiredness and/or headache.
Generally, symptoms begin to show within 12 to 24 hours of getting to the higher altitude and begin to recover within a day or two as your body gets adjusted to the change in height.
High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
Mostly HACE is caused by changes of fluids due to reduced pressure into the tissues of the brains initiating swelling within the confines of the skull. HACE is a more severe condition that results in a higher skull pressure that sometimes leads to lethargy and ultimately coma.
From being weak or fatigue, it advances to lethargy and then coma, and/or- there may be confusion, disorientation and walking disturbance (in which case, a test should be made to see whether the person can walk straight, following a line), the symptoms of HACE are an extension to those of AMS.
Anyone who shows the signs of HACE should instantly go downhill with help from others. If HACE progresses too much, it may eventually lead to death.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
HAPE is also a severe condition that either follows AMS or appear independently without any signs of AMS. A low oxygen concentration may trigger blood vessels in the long to tighten, which causes higher pressure in the lung arteries.
This makes fluids to leak from blood vessels into the lungs. Symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema generally appear at night and can get worse during exertion.
Symptoms of high-altitude pulmonary edema include:
- Chest stiffness or fullness
- Extreme tiredness
- Not able to catch your breath, even when resting
- Blue or gray lips and fingernails
- Coughing, which may produce pink foamy fluid
- Noises when breathing, such as rattling or gurgling sounds
High-altitude retinal hemorrhage can happen with or without symptoms. Unless the area of the eye that provides the most detailed vision (the macula) is involved, it is not apparent. The main symptom of high-altitude retinal hemorrhage is Blurred vision.
Continuously check the symptoms of altitude sickness and be prepared to recognize the early symptoms as altitude sickness can be life-threatening. Simple headaches and symptoms that suggest acute mountain sickness can be diagnosed without test and be easily treated with mild pain reliever.
Symptoms that might suggest acute altitude sickness include, difficulty exercising, dry cough, rapid heart rate (more than 100beats per minute), and shortness of breath even while resting.
How to prevent altitude illness?
Ascending gradually is the most excellent way to avoid altitude sickness. However, you can stop altitude sickness from worsening if you stop climbing or start to descend if you notice early signs of altitude sickness.
It is not recommended to climb more than 300 – 400m per day when you are above 3000m. However, if you feel headache, or nausea or any other symptoms of altitude sickness even if you have not climbed more than 300m, do not miss to take a rest day to get adapted.
Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is also recommended as proper hydration assists to avoid altitude sickness. Drink a minimum of 1 liter of water per 1000m.
Diamox can also be used to speed up your adaptation to the climate and prevent altitude sickness. You can start to take one pill per day immediately after you ascend more than 3,000m. For those who have experienced high-altitude sickness before, consult with your doctor before going to a high-altitude place.
How to treat altitude sickness?
- If a doctor is available, do not miss to consult
- In case of minor altitude sickness symptoms, remain at the same altitude, take it easy, get plenty of sleep, drink enough water, and possibly start to take Diamox pills. In case the altitude symptoms do not get better within 1 day, start to go down. Never descend alone if you suffer from altitude sickness.
- Use supplemental oxygen and the drug dexamethasone (which decrease brain swelling) if a descent must be delayed.
- For severe altitude sickness, instantly start to descend.
- Gamow bag, which is a high-pressure inflatable bag that assists in restoring oxygen level and air pressure, might also be helpful for the treatment of acute altitude sickness.
- In case of altitude sickness, avoid alcohol, sleeping pills, and narcotic pain medications.