Understanding How Altitude Sickness On Mount Everest Affects The Brain
Altitude sickness, also called mountain sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a prevalent condition that may occur when one attempts to ascend at high altitudes quickly. This environmental phenomenon and its impact on the brain is common among climbers of the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.
What is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness is essentially the body’s response to the low atmospheric pressure and low oxygen levels that occur at high altitudes. As one climbs higher, the air becomes thinner, and this has a significant bearing on the body’s physiological functions. Generally, the body can adapt or acclimatize to high altitudes if the ascent is gradual. However, if the ascent is too rapid, the changes in atmospheric pressure and oxygen levels can overwhelm the body, leading to symptoms of altitude sickness.
The Brain and Altitude Sickness
The brain is perfectly encased within the protective shell of the skull, and any conditions that may interfere with this experts balance, such as altitude sickness, can have devastating effects. When a person suffers from altitude sickness, the low oxygen levels can hamper brain functions, leading to a range of symptoms from mild to potentially fatal. On Mount Everest, these effects and their severity may be exponentially pronounced.
Typical Symptoms of Altitude Sickness
Some of the early signs of altitude sickness include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and trouble sleeping. These are considered mild symptoms and can often be relieved simply by descending to a lower altitude, resting, and staying hydrated.
Severe Symptoms and Life-Threatening Conditions
If a person continues to ascend without proper acclimatization, they may start developing severe symptoms including difficulty walking, breathlessness even at rest, altered mental status, and a bluish discoloration of skin and mucous membranes due to inadequate oxygenation of blood.
Two life-threatening conditions, high-altitude cerebral edema (HACE) and high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), may also occur. HACE is characterized by the leakage of fluid into the brain tissue, resulting in severe impairment of brain functions, while HAPE is characterized by the seepage of fluid into the lungs.
Preventing Altitude Sickness on Mount Everest
The key to preventing altitude sickness, especially on challenging climbs like Mount Everest, includes proper acclimatization, good hydration, and appropriate medication when necessary. Ascending slowly, sleeping at a lower altitude than the height gained during the day, and adequately rest can help the body acclimatize more effectively.
FAQs on Altitude Sickness:
1. Can altitude sickness be fatal?
Yes, severe altitude sickness, particularly the conditions HACE (High-Altitude Cerebral Edema) and HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema), can indeed be fatal. These forms are characterized by fluid leakage into brain tissues and lungs, respectively, necessitating immediate treatment and descent.
2. Is altitude sickness always evident on Mount Everest?
Not everyone who climbs Mount Everest will experience altitude sickness, but it is a common condition due to the rapid ascent and extreme height. It largely depends on the individual climber’s pre-existing health, conditioning, and acclimatization process.
3. How quickly can altitude sickness set in?
Altitude sickness often manifests within a few hours of ascending to a high altitude but usually subsides within two days as your body adjusts to changes. Severity and onset can vary among individuals.
4. Can descending resolve symptoms of altitude sickness?
Descent is often the most effective remedy for altitude sickness. This is because symptoms usually occur due to inadequate oxygenation at high altitudes, and descending can, therefore, quickly alleviate these symptoms.
5. Can altitude sickness be prevented?
While it might not be 100% preventable, effective prevention methods can significantly reduce the risk of altitude sickness. These include acclimatization, hydrating adequately, ascending slowly, sleeping at a lower altitude than the height gained during the day, and taking appropriate precautionary medication when deemed necessary.