Altitude Sickness on Everest Base Camp Trek

  • Sarba -In mountain's embrace , my soul finds its grace
  • Last Updated on Aug 18, 2023

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a common condition that can occur when ascending to high altitudes too quickly. It typically affects individuals who are not accustomed to high altitudes, such as trekkers on the Everest Base Camp trek. While it is normal to experience some mild symptoms, it is important to prevent them from escalating into more severe conditions.

Table of Contents

Highlights of Altitude Sickness while on Everest Base Camp.

  • Gradual ascent: It is essential to allow your body enough time to adjust to the increasing altitude. Ascend slowly and aim for a maximum gain of around 300-500 meters (1,000-1,600 feet) in elevation per day. This slower pace allows your body to adapt to the changing conditions.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, to stay hydrated. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption as it can contribute to dehydration and worsen altitude sickness symptoms.
  • Eat well: Maintain a balanced diet and consume enough calories to fuel your body's energy needs. Carbohydrate-rich foods are beneficial for providing sustained energy during the trek.
  • Take rest days: Incorporate rest days into your itinerary to allow your body to acclimatize. During these rest days, you can engage in light activities and explore the surroundings without exerting yourself too much.
  • Climb high, sleep low: During your trek, make it a practice to hike to higher altitudes during the day and descend to lower altitudes for sleeping. This helps expose your body to higher elevations while still allowing for proper rest and recovery.
  • Consider medication: In consultation with a healthcare professional, you may choose to take medications like acetazolamide (Diamox) to help prevent or alleviate altitude sickness symptoms. However, medication should not be considered a substitute for proper acclimatization and should only be used as directed.

Pay attention to your body: Be aware of any signs or symptoms of altitude sickness and communicate with your trekking companions or guides. If you experience severe symptoms that persist or worsen, it is essential to descend to a lower altitude immediately and seek medical attention.

Altitude Sickness on Everest Base Camp

The Everest Base Camp Trek is located in a region known for its high altitude, making it one of the highest trekking routes in the world. The trek begins at Lukla Airport, situated at an altitude of 2,600 meters, and reaches its highest point at Kala Patthar, just over 5,500 meters above sea level. Throughout the entire trek, travelers pass through two altitude regions referred to as "high altitude" and "very high altitude." Due to the rapid ascent to these heights, it is crucial to be aware of and take precautions against altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS).
Altitude sickness occurs when individuals ascend to high altitudes too quickly, especially if they are not accustomed to such elevations. While mild symptoms are normal, it is crucial to prevent them from escalating into more severe conditions. The primary cause of acute mountain sickness is decreased oxygen levels and reduced air pressure at higher altitudes. The lack of oxygen can lead to various symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping.
It is important to note that altitude sickness can progress to more serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). Every individual acclimatizes differently, and there is no foolproof method to entirely prevent altitude sickness. However, adhering to certain guidelines can significantly reduce the risk and ensure a safer and more enjoyable trek to Everest Base Camp.

Symptoms of Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), can manifest through various symptoms. These include shortness of breath or rapid breathing, fatigue, nausea (and sometimes vomiting), dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite, erratic sleep, insomnia, and vivid dreams. These symptoms are common among individuals who ascend to high altitudes too quickly, where decreased oxygen levels and reduced air pressure prevail. While experiencing some mild symptoms is normal, it is important to take precautions and prevent them from progressing into more severe conditions.

Altitude Sickness Affect Everyone

Altitude sickness affects individuals to varying degrees, and virtually everyone will experience some level of symptoms on a high-altitude trek like the Everest Base Camp trek. However, individuals who already live at very high altitudes may only experience altitude sickness later in the trek when they approach the base camp. It is important to note that altitude sickness does not discriminate based on demographics such as age, sex, or physical fitness. Even a very fit person in excellent physical health can experience worse altitude sickness compared to an older, less fit person. There is no sure way to predict who will be affected and to what extent. However, there are measures that can be taken to mitigate the symptoms, as we will discuss shortly.

What is acclimatization?

Acclimatization is a crucial process that involves giving your body sufficient time to adjust to a new elevation before ascending further. It allows your body to adapt to the decreased oxygen levels and reduced air pressure at higher altitudes. With proper acclimatization, you may still experience mild symptoms of altitude sickness, but overall, your health is preserved, and you can gradually progress to higher elevations.
By allowing your body time to acclimatize, you give it the opportunity to increase red blood cell production, improve oxygen uptake, and make necessary physiological adjustments. This process typically involves taking rest days at certain altitudes, allowing your body to adjust and recover. It is important to listen to your body and pay attention to any symptoms that may arise during the acclimatization process.
Through proper acclimatization, you can minimize the risk of developing more severe altitude sickness and enjoy a safer and more successful trek at higher elevations.

Types of Altitude Sickness

Symptoms of altitude sickness are typically categorized into mild, moderate, and severe, with the seriousness of symptoms escalating in each category. It is important to recognize and differentiate these symptoms in order to prevent the development of more severe forms of altitude sickness, such as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which present much more serious and potentially life-threatening risks.
The transition from severe symptoms to HACE and HAPE can occur rapidly, underscoring the need for early identification and intervention. By being able to identify and address mild and moderate symptoms promptly, the progression to these critical conditions can be prevented.
Therefore, it is crucial for trekkers to be aware of the signs of altitude sickness and to pay close attention to their own physical well-being and any changes in their condition. Prompt recognition and appropriate action can help mitigate the risks associated with altitude sickness and ensure a safer trekking experience.

Mild: When individuals arrive in high-altitude areas, experiencing symptoms like headaches, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, lack of sleep, and loss of appetite is quite common. These symptoms are typical manifestations of altitude sickness and are generally resolved by allowing the body 1-2 days of rest to acclimatize to the new altitude.
Taking adequate rest during this initial period allows the body to adjust to the decreased oxygen levels and reduced air pressure at higher altitudes. It gives the necessary time for physiological adaptations to occur, such as increased red blood cell production and improved oxygen uptake.
Once the body has had time to acclimatize and the symptoms have subsided, individuals can gradually climb to higher altitudes with reduced risks of severe altitude sickness. However, it is important to note that acclimatization is an individual process, and it may vary from person to person. It is crucial to listen to your body, take rest when needed, and proceed with caution to ensure a safe and enjoyable trek at higher altitudes.

Moderate: Ascending further while experiencing the following conditions can indeed be dangerous and may lead to the onset of more severe symptoms. In such cases, immediate descent is the recommended course of action for treatment. Once the symptoms have resolved, a gradual ascent can be resumed. 
The conditions that necessitate immediate descent include:
Headaches, particularly migraines do not respond to medication.
Strong and persistent nausea or vomiting.
Intense fatigue and muscle weakness.
Shortness of breath, indicating difficulty in breathing.
Ataxia, which is characterized by a lack of coordination or difficulty in controlling movements.
Experiencing these symptoms at high altitudes can be indicative of more severe forms of altitude sickness, such as High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) or High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). These conditions require immediate medical attention and descent to lower altitudes is essential for proper treatment. It is crucial to prioritize safety and take the necessary steps to address these symptoms. Only after the symptoms have completely resolved should a gradual ascent be considered, with close monitoring of one's well-being and awareness of any potential recurrence of symptoms.

Sever: HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) and HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) are indeed severe conditions associated with altitude sickness. In the presence of these conditions, immediate descent to lower altitudes is compulsory, as further ascent can be potentially fatal.
The symptoms of HACE include:
Inability to walk or coordinate movements (ataxia)
Severe shortness of breath
Impaired cognitive abilities, such as confusion or disorientation
Hallucinations or changes in mental state
On the other hand, HAPE is characterized by:
Severe shortness of breath, even at rest
Rapid breathing and a feeling of suffocation
Fatigue and weakness
Persistent coughing, often producing pink or frothy sputum
Fluid build-up in the lungs, causing respiratory distress
Both HACE and HAPE are medical emergencies and require immediate action. Descending to lower altitudes is crucial for proper treatment and alleviating life-threatening symptoms. It is essential to seek medical assistance as soon as possible in these situations. Recognizing the severity of these symptoms and responding with immediate descent and appropriate medical intervention can be life-saving. Safety should always be the top priority when dealing with severe altitude sickness conditions like HACE and HAPE.

Preparing for your trek and Preventing altitude sickness on the Everest Base Camp.

To prevent altitude sickness on the Everest Base Camp trek, it's crucial to be aware of symptoms and report them to your trek leader. Ascending at a steady pace, taking acclimatization days, and sleeping at lower altitudes are important. Acclimatization days are included at Namche Bazaar and Dingboche, allowing your body to adjust to the altitude while resting. Staying hydrated by drinking at least five liters of water per day, eating well, and getting enough sleep are necessary. Being physically fit before the trek can reduce the risk of altitude sickness and make breathing easier. Mental preparation and determination are vital for the challenging journey. Altitude medication like Diamox can be considered after thorough research and consultation with a doctor.

An evacuation for Everest Base Camp Trek

If an individual becomes severely ill with acute mountain sickness (AMS) to the extent that they are unable to descend on their own to a lower and safer altitude, a helicopter evacuation may be necessary. If you are undertaking the Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek with a tour operator, your trek guide will make the necessary arrangements for the helicopter evacuation.
It is indeed possible to arrange helicopter evacuations on the EBC trek. However, it's important to note that such evacuations can be extremely expensive. Most tour operators do not cover the cost of helicopter evacuations in their packages. Therefore, it is crucial to purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that specifically includes coverage for medical evacuations.

  • If someone is too sick with AMS to descend on their own, a helicopter evacuation may be necessary.
  • If you are trekking with a tour operator, your guide will help organize the evacuation.
  • Helicopter evacuations are possible on the Everest Base Camp trek.
  • Helicopter evacuations are not typically covered by tour operators, so it is important to have travel insurance that covers medical evacuations.

Buying comprehensive travel insurance is vital to ensure coverage for potential evacuation expenses.

Ending Note from us,

Nepal Nomad promises an unforgettable adventure that will last a lifetime. With adequate preparation, individuals in moderately good health can embark on this captivating journey to the higher altitudes of Everest Base Camp. The challenges encountered along the way only add to the enchantment of the experience. However, it is crucial to have the support and guidance of a reputable trek organizer to ensure a successful trip. At Nepal Nomad Trekking, we are committed to delivering top-notch services to adventurers worldwide, prioritizing their safety with the assistance of our team of experienced professionals.

Sarba -In mountain's embrace , my soul finds its grace

Sarba -In mountain's embrace , my soul finds its grace

Sarba is the multifaceted leader behind Nepal Nomad, a reputable travel company with an extensive 16-year history in tour operations. As the team leader, owner, tour manager, and managing director, Sarba has spearheaded the company's growth and success. With a strong emphasis on safety and enjoyment, Nepal Nomad boasts a dedicated team comprising experienced guides, potters, and mountaineers.

The team's expertise extends to various critical areas, including first-aid, map reading, and evacuation protocols, ensuring the well-being of all travelers. Notably, the team is also adept at conversing in foreign languages, facilitating seamless communication between the office and a diverse range of travelers. Nepal Nomad stands out by offering both personalized itineraries and fixed departure options, catering to the unique preferences of our clients. For those seeking information on costs and other specifics, the friendly in-office staff is readily available to assist with inquiries. If you're looking for a travel experience that blends expertise, safety, and personalized service, Nepal Nomad is the go-to choice.

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