What is altitude sickness?
The term altitude sickness (AMS) refers to a group of health problems that occur when people who live at low altitudes travel to high altitudes. AMS is caused by the lower amount of oxygen in the air. When you trek or climb to higher elevations, your body needs more time to adjust than it would at lower altitudes.
At high elevations, less oxygen is available for your body cells because there’s less air pressure and the atmosphere contains fewer oxygen molecules. As a result, your body has to work harder to keep up with oxygen demands, which can impair muscle performance and cause you to tire more easily.
Altitude sickness is divided into two categories: acute mountain sickness (AMS) and high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Both types of altitude sickness can be dangerous, depending on how quickly and severely symptoms occur.
Everest Base Camp
Often said as one of the best long treks in the world, Everest Base Camp offers you to witness the top of the world. This trek grants you to walk through the shadows of the highest peak of the world.
There are two base camps for Mount Everest on the opposite sides. The South Base Camp lies in Nepal with an altitude of 5,364 meters above sea level, while North Base Camp is in Tibet, China, at 5,150 meters.
Used by thousands of trekkers every year, the south Base Camp is the most popular trekking route amongst trekkers. On the other hand, North Base Camp can be accessed through a Chinese government vehicle. We will be looking upon the South Base Camp as it is more adventurous and challenging than the North.
Generally, the trek lasts 16-19 days from your arrival at Tribhuvan International airport, Kathmandu. It can be customized according to your comfort.
The highest peak of the world, Mount Everest, is so daunting that many have lost their lives on the verge of summiting. But trekking to its base camp is achievable and can be an adventure of a lifetime for trekkers.
With some of the world’s most spectacular Himalayans scenery and indigenous group, embark on your journey on the networks of trails formed over centuries by porters, locals, and mountaineers.
You will fly from Kathmandu to Lukla within 30-45 minutes and start your trek the next day. Lukla is at a height of 2,860m, and you need to ascend around 2520 meters to reach the Everest Base Camp at the height of 5,380 m.
You might be wondering, if it’s only about 2520 meters to ascend, why would we need so much time to reach the base camp. Even if we get above 500 meters each day, it would only take us around five days to reach the lap of Mount Everest, so why more than two weeks?
The answer to this question is acclimatization. It is a crucial aspect for all mountaineers.
As you move higher, the air pressure decreases, and you will get less and less oxygen. This can cause serious health issues, sometimes leading to death. The most common problem encountered if you’re not adequately acclimatized to the altitude is Acute Mountain Sickness.
Commonly known as AMS or altitude sickness, starts from 3000 meters above sea level. Anyone who ascends too quickly without giving the body to adjust to the changes in oxygen can suffer from Altitude sickness.
This might affect everyone differently and at a different altitude. However, people living near the sea level, like citizens from the UK, Japan, Netherlands, and Singapore, might get altitude sickness very quickly, even when they are below 3000 meters.
This is because most of their lives have adapted to intake more oxygen to function.
While anyone without proper acclimatization can suffer from it, those who live near the sea level are more vulnerable to AMS.
However, it depends on your body and health and how you’re accustoming your body to less oxygen.
The factor causing Altitude sickness is
- Less Oxygen
- Rapid Ascent
You need to be rescued before the risk of Acute Mountain Sickness, which may cost your life. To reduce the risk of getting AMS, you first need to understand the signs and symptoms of AMS to ask for help.
Most of the time, trekkers wouldn’t feel any signs and symptoms of AMS before; it hits them hard.
A few signs and symptoms of AMS
- Dizziness, light headache, confusion, and irritation: One of the early symptoms of AMS can be having a slight headache and dizziness. You might think that it is only because you’re exposed to a more strenuous walk but never take these symptoms lightly. You also might get confused more often and be irritated quickly.
- Nausea, vomiting: If you feel nauseous and tend to throw up, remember that you might have been suffering from AMS.
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia or sleeplessness
- Persistent headache
- Disorientation, drunken gait
- Weakness, fatigue, lassitude, heavy legs
- Slight swelling of hands and face
- Breathlessness and breathing irregularly
- Reduced urine output
There are two types of altitude sickness HAPE and HACE.
It means High Altitude Pulmonary Edema which means your lungs are filling up with water, and the symptoms can be
- Increasing shortness in breathe
- Dry cough
- Unusual fatigue
- High pulse rate, i.e., 110
- Blueness in fingertips, lips, tongue, and face. (This is because you are not transporting enough oxygen to your blood.)
means High Altitude Cerebral Edema, where water is getting to your brain. The symptoms are:
- Persistent headache.
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Fatigue and Tiredness
- Highly Irritateable
- Drunken Gait
The heel-to-toe step can tell you whether or not you or your teammate is suffering from HACE.
These symptoms should be taken very seriously, and in case if any of the signs appear, do not ascend further above. Altitude Sickness can make a fatal change within hours. The only solution to Altitude sickness is to descend immediately.
You cannot control the external atmospheric pressure, but you can make your body adapted or accustomed to the condition.
How to avoid AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)?
- Don’t hike alone.
- Don’t drink alcohol or take sleeping pills.
- Always climb higher than your sleeping camp.
- Ascend only 300 meters per day above 3000metere.
- Drink more fluid.
- Don’t ascend too quick.
- Eat plenty from 4000-5000 calories.
- Walk slowly
- Take rest on alternative days.
- Take Gammo bag
Another huge challenge
It is the stage when the underlying of your skin freezes and becomes very cold, red, numb, and hard. The most common areas of the human body where you could get frostbite are fingers, tips of the toe, tips of the ear, tips of lips, cheeks, and nose.
Prolonged exposure to cold frostbite can develop from first degree to fourth degree. The initial symptom is usually numbness, followed by clumsiness with the white or bluish color of the skin and blisters.
The four degrees of frostbite are
- First Degree or Frostnip
- Numbness or loss of feeling in the skin
- Gets blisters
Second degree or superficial frostbit
- Discolored skin into white or pale
- A feeling of stinging and burning
Third-degree or deep frostbite
- A lost sensation of cold and pain
- Joints or muscles may not work
- Larger blisters
- Black and hard tissue
- Foul smell
The treatments for frostbite are
- Take to a warm place
- Remove wet clothes
- Immerse in hot water for 15 to 45 minutes
- Keep on adding hot water
- Dry and cover the area
- Give hot drinks
Here are a few Don’ts of frostbite
- Don’t break blisters
- Don’t walk with frostbitten toes, if possible
- Don’t apply dry heat
- Don’t wear wet clothes
- Preventions for frostbite
- Wear according to the weather
- Eat plenty
- Move the frostbitten part and put it in a warm region of your body.
- Don’t drink alcohol
- Wear mittens rather than gloves
Recognizing early signs of frostbite
However, if you’ve trained properly, had an excellent itinerary, and were aware of the health challenges, prevention, and treatment, it won’t be a problem to get to the Everest Base Camp.
When should you Trek to Everest Base Camp?
The best trek to Everest Base Camp is Pre-monsoon from March to May and Post monsoon from September to December. Pre-monsoon is gently warm in the low land and moderate in the high altitude.
During Pre-monsoon, spring is welcomed by various blooming flowers covering the whole mountains, while post-monsoon offers a clear and cloudless sky with stunning sceneries of the Himalayas. It is also the time of the year when you will find many other trekkers from around the world.
June, July, and August are monsoon and is hot and humid. You won’t be much able to see the mountains as the clouds mostly disguise them. A flight delay can be a very general problem at this time of the year, and the trails will get slippery and may also have the risk of landslides.
December, January, and February can get very cold in Everest Base Camp. The temperature can go below 15 to 18-degree Celsius. Apart from the harsh cold, you might have to face stormy wind creating a hurricane spiral. Most of the tea houses remain closed at this time in the region. However, you can trek to the lower elevations in Everest Base Camp this time of the year with less traffic.
If you keep these in mind, you will help yourself and anyone who faces this challenge. Everest Base Camp can be a life-changing adventure for any trekker, but if you’re not aware and careless about these symptoms, this might be life-threatening.
So prepare yourself and never take any of these symptoms lightly when you’re in the laps of the highest mountain in the world. If you or your team face any of these challenges, descend as quickly as possible.
For best acclimatization, you should only ascend 300 meters or 1000 feet per day.