What causes altitude sickness on Mount Everest?

What causes altitude sickness on Mount Everest?

What Causes Altitude Sickness on Mount Everest?

Altitude Sickness: A Battlefield on the Roof of the World

The majestic Mount Everest with its dizzying height of 8,848.86m is the ultimate goal for mountaineers around the globe. Along with the euphoria of conquering the highest peak on Earth, there lies a daunting challenge – Altitude Sickness. This naturally occurring phenomenon has claimed quite a few lives and is indeed a serious issue one cannot overlook.

Altitude Sickness: An Overview

Also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), altitude sickness is a condition triggered when climbers ascend quickly to high altitudes. It’s a bodily reaction to low levels of oxygen and atmospheric pressure that are common at high elevations.

Physiological Response at High Altitudes

Our body is designed to function optimally at sea level where oxygen and atmospheric pressure are greatest. But as one ascends, the oxygen level in the air decreases while atmospheric pressure drops. To compensate, our body increases the breathing rate, producing more red blood cells to carry oxygen. This condition, known as hypoxia, leads to various physical disturbances, essentially transforming into altitude sickness.

Causes of Altitude Sickness on Mount Everest

Mount Everest, being the highest peak, exposes climbers to extreme high-altitude conditions. The key factors causing altitude sickness here include:

Rapid Ascent

An abrupt climb without giving the body ample time to adapt leads to altitude sickness. Recommended practice is to ascend not more than 300-500 meters per day above 3000 meters.

Insufficient Acclimatization

The body needs time to adapt to the ever-decreasing oxygen levels and atmospheric pressure. This process called acclimatization helps in preventing altitude sickness. Climbers usually follow a ‘climb high, sleep low’ approach for better acclimatization.

Individual Susceptibility

We all respond differently to the lack of oxygen. Some might experience mild symptoms, while others might suffer from severe illness. It’s also unrelated to physical fitness or climbing experience.

Level of Exhaustion and Dehydration

Fatigue and dehydration augments the likelihood of experiencing altitude sickness. Physical exhaustion reduces the body’s ability to carry more oxygen, whereas dehydration thickens the blood, hampering efficient transport of oxygen.

Significance of Identifying and Treating Altitude Sickness

Untreated altitude sickness can progress to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) or High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), both life-threatening conditions. Early identification of symptoms is crucial and descending immediately often proves to be the most effective treatment.

FAQs on Altitude Sickness on Mount Everest

1. How can one prevent altitude sickness on Mount Everest?

Preventing altitude sickness requires gradual ascent, ensuring sufficient acclimatization, staying well-hydrated, and avoiding over-exercise.

2. What are the major symptoms of altitude sickness?

Symptoms include; headache, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, palpitation, insomnia, swelling of hands and feet, and fatigue.

3. Is altitude sickness fatal?

If not treated promptly, altitude sickness can result in fatal conditions like HAPE and HACE.

4. Can altitude sickness be treated on Mount Everest?

The only definitive treatment is to descend immediately. Medications like Acetazolamide (Diamox) can help the body acclimatize faster and alleviate symptoms, but it’s not a substitute for descent or proper acclimatization.

5. Does physical fitness influence the severity of altitude sickness?

Physical fitness does not necessarily guard one from altitude sickness. It’s more about individual susceptibility and how one’s body reacts to low oxygen levels.

In conclusion, embracing the challenges of Mount Everest is not just about physical endurance, but also about respecting the might of the mountain and listening to one’s body. Knowing about altitude sickness and its causes is the first step towards preparing for a safe and successful expedition to the roof of the world.