From unforgettable scenic views of the Himalayas to the remarkable interaction with the culture of the indigenous mountain dwellers, Nepal offers trekkers so much more than just trails for high-altitude treks.
If you are planning to conquer famous trails such as the Everest Base Camp trek or the Annapurna Circuit, or are opting for easier trails such as Poon Hill, you should know that most of the trails are at an altitude of over 2000 meters. High altitude makes trekkers susceptible to a condition called Altitude Sickness which can be fatal if ignored.
What is Altitude Sickness?
When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen at high altitude, it causes Altitude sickness. As you climb higher, the atmospheric pressure decreases. As the air at higher altitudes gets thinner, the concentration of oxygen decreases leading to altitude sickness.
One way to prevent altitude sickness is through the process of acclimatization. This is a process where the body becomes accustomed to lower oxygen levels at high altitudes.
How does acclimatization help the body to adapt to changes in pressure?
Acclimatization helps by:
1. Increasing the breathing rate even during rest
2. Increasing the number of red blood cells in your body
3. Releasing more enzymes that helps release of oxygen from red blood cells to tissues
4. Increasing pressure in arteries to increase blood flow into lungs
Acclimatizing properly is key to making sure that proper changes in your body can take place while you are trekking.
If you are starting to feel discomfort while trekking to high altitudes, the safe bet is to assume that it’s altitude sickness.
What are the symptoms of Altitude Sickness?
Some of the symptoms of altitude sickness include:
3. Loss of appetite
5. Shortness of breath
6. Sleeping problems
If you ignore these symptoms and continue climbing to higher altitudes, the symptoms will worsen. This may cause a more moderate case of altitude sickness to develop. Complications may also arise as the symptoms worsen.
Some complications that may arise is the development of severe forms of altitude sickness such as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High-Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), which are both fatal.
Other symptoms that may appear are as follows:
1. Severe headache
3. Loss of coordination and trouble walking
4. A tightening feeling in your chest
5. Inability to walk
As you can see, acclimatizing plays the most important role to make sure safe high altitude trekking.
Some tips and tricks to help ease the acclimatization process naturally are:
1. Do not rush to finish your trek in a short amount of time. Make sure that your trek includes acclimatisation days where you drink lots of fluids and relax.
2. Climb high and sleep low. This is a crucial practice that helps your body acclimatize on its own accord. If you reach your campsite, go for a walk in higher places, and then descend to sleep.
3. It’s important for you to stay hydrated at all times. Dehydration can hamper the process of acclimatization. So, you should drink plenty of water while trekking.
4. You must avoid consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or similar stimulants while trekking. Alcohol makes your body feel dehydrated which is not good for you.
5. If you start showing symptoms of altitude sickness you should stop trekking until the symptoms subside. If the symptoms seem to worsen, descend at once.
6. Follow a high carb diet like bread, rice, potatoes or similar.
7. Walk at your own pace and don’t overexert yourself. Remember that everyone has different rates at which they acclimatize. So, do not rush anyone, including yourself.
What medications help prevent Altitude Sickness?
If your body is still not adjusting to the environmental changes even after taking proper measures, you can take Diamox tablets to reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. These tablets can decrease headache, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tiredness.
Caution: Never take sleeping pills while at a high altitude. If you have trouble sleeping, take Diamox tablets instead. But first, consult a doctor before going on high altitude treks, particularly while using Diamox tablets, depending on your health conditions.
Looking for Professional and Reliable Travel Medicine Consultation in Nepal?
For proper consultation on Altitude sickness and Mountain Medicine visit Swacon International Hospital. Our team of medical experts are here to consult you on anything that you should, or would want to know before you go on a trek to the high altitudes.
Health for All