• Updated on Dec 2, 2021

Thinking about trekking into the Himalayas of Nepal but worried about the forthcoming obstacles and the high altitude. Here, in this blog, we will talk about the most common problem which the trekkers encounter while being in such a worrying attitude.

Discover Altitude does not intend to make your forthcoming trip full of confusion or dilemma but our pious willingness is to inform you with fact-based information regarding our 20 years of experience. We have seen multiple numbers of trekkers encountering altitude sickness from moderate to serious level mostly unprepared individual trekkers and have seen some death as well.

Our team member has been involved in the tourism sector of Nepal dealing with high altitudes and also peak climbing. Through this blog, we will try to share our experience related to the myth of high altitude sickness.

Table of Contents

Introduction 

We personally want trekkers to know about the common risk factor while trekking into the Himalayas when the point comes about altitude. Normally, till 3300m/10827ft we don’t see the hazardous conditions of trekkers but as we ascend further, we can feel some symptoms but of moderate level, and some symptoms of altitude sickness might occur from the altitude of 2400 m/7874ft, this mainly might happen to trekkers who are native from the sea level altitude.

Some symptoms might happen to almost all trekkers no matter at what altitude one has been before. Among them, some physically fit trekkers' health gets better while some suffer from the environment of the Himalayas and has no choice but to descend to a lower altitude.

Let’s see what altitude sickness is, its type, and the cause of altitude sickness along with we will advise some precautions to cope up with when you or your friends suffer from such altitude sickness.

What is Altitude Sickness

Let’s start with altitude sickness and its type. Altitude sickness is mainly related to travelers when they head towards high altitudes. Altitude sickness is also known as ‘Mountain Sickness’ or ‘High Altitude Sickness’.

What-so-ever, the name may be called, it is a group of symptoms that strike travelers while hiking or climbing to a higher altitude when your body cannot acclimatize with the environment of such a high altitude.

This is mainly due to quick ascend when your body does not get time to cope-up with the air pressure at such a high altitude.

Types of Altitude Sickness 

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS): Acute Mountain Sickness is a temperate form of altitude sickness and is very common as well. AMS affects trekkers, hikers, climbers while heading to the high altitude in a short span of time. This is caused due to reduction in air pressure and oxygen level at high altitudes.

The common symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness is Dizziness, Headache, muscle aches, nausea, and some sort of hangover.

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): High Altitude Pulmonary Edema is a severe and life-threatening form of altitude sickness. This might result in the fatal accident of trekkers if taken lightly.

HAPE mainly occurs as a result of AMS, when travelers avoid the call of their body at the very first level and are ascending with the unconditional pace without allowing their body to acclimatize with the air pressure of the high altitude.

HAPE is a serious form of altitude sickness when the trekker's lung is build-up with fluid, resulting in lung damage. This can be very dangerous and life-threatening and requires medical attention without delay.

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE): High Altitude Cerebral Edema is the last and life-threatening condition of altitude sickness. This is a stage where travelers might lose their consciousness level due to the rise of fluid into the brain. This will be hazardous to your life if you don’t seek a medical emergency without delay.

Symptoms Of Altitude Sickness

What are the possible symptoms of Altitude Sickness?

Some of the high possible symptoms of high-altitude sickness include:

  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Problem with sleep
  3. Headache
  4. Dizziness
  5. Vomiting
  6. Nausea
  7. Fatigue
  8. Loss of energy
  9. Shortness of breath
  10. Confusion
  11. Inability to walk
  12. cough

What Leads to Altitude Sickness?

The main reason for altitude sickness is due to the pressure of air and the level of oxygen at a higher altitude. The pressure of air that surrounds us and our surrounding environment is called barometric pressure.

As we ascend to a higher altitude this pressure drops down with the rise in temperature, as the pressure drops down the level of oxygen decreases with the rise of altitude.

It does not mean all will have the problem of altitude sickness, it mainly depends upon our previous experience of being at such altitude and also the altitude we belong to.

Mainly if you belong to the altitude of sea level, there is the most possibility of being entangled with altitude sickness but also depends upon how high in terms of altitude you travel.

Meanwhile, if you live in a place that is moderately high in terms of altitude from sea leave. Your body gets used to the air pressure, but you need to think while traveling to a higher altitude compared to the altitude you have been before.

For this, your body needs time to adjust to the change in air pressure. This ‘time’, plays a vital role to cope up with the oxygen while hiking to the high altitude.

So, ‘slow and steady always wins the race’ is very applicable while hiking to high altitudes. Give a sufficient amount of time to your internal organ to cope up with the air pressure and oxygen of the high altitude.

Prevention From Altitude Sickness

Prevention is always better than cure, how to prevent self from altitude sickness might be your question and it is to all while hiking to the higher altitude. The best way to get rid of any sort of mountain sickness related to high altitude is to manage the time and pace of your hike.

This also includes acclimatization to make your lung and brain get a sufficient amount of oxygen and avoid alcoholic drinks and the use of tobacco (smoking).

Now, how does it work, mainly while hiking you need to know about the altitude of your camp? Trekkers should be concerned with the fact that it is safe and better to ascend 300-500 meters per day when you are already at an altitude of 3300 meters.

Next will be to maintain the physical condition of your body. This means when you are planning to trek to a higher altitude make sure you start some physical exercise prior to your trip.

This includes swimming, jogging, a short hike, some indoor games or sports, etc. will definitely help you for a long and high hike to control the speed of breathing and help your stamina.

And last but not the least, it is always recommended to hike higher and sleep lower. This means when you are at your camp after a break tries to unload yourself with all belongings but carry a bottle of water and try to hike at a nominal pace to some hills around which is higher than the camp you are supposed to stay overnight. This will help your body to cope up with the air pressure of the high altitude.

Apart from all these tips, while hiking control your pace and try to take some rest, and drink a sufficient amount of water. Make sure you are not forcing your body to hike more than it dares to do.

Treatment Of Altitude Sickness

Never think of using medication in case of hiking at a higher altitude, if you mentally go for medication in case of altitude sickness you will not be able to maintain your pace and manage your time.

So, better try to acclimatize self and cove lesser altitude, this will be the best way to avoid altitude sickness.

Now, the question arises of what to do when you are with the symptoms of altitude sickness. The best way to deal when you recognize symptoms related to altitude sickness is to descend and try to have garlic or ginger soup, this will be available at all the tea houses while traveling in the Himalayas of Nepal.

Talk with your guide, friends, or the hotel owners about your condition, if you try to avoid the symptoms there will be a high possibility of the second and third stage of altitude sickness, which is High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) and HighAltitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) which are serious and life-threatening and must need emergency medical attention and when you are single hikers into the Himalayas without friends or guide, this will be difficult.

But if you are mentally planning to use medication, use it before the trek starts or plan from what altitude you would prefer to use, as it takes a couple of hours for the medication to work on your body to increase the oxygen level.

Now, what are the possible medicine you can use for altitude sickness that can never be fixed? Please consult with your doctor before the trip and let him/her know about the altitude you are planning to head.

Some of the medicine which is used for altitude sickness can be Diamox, for altitude headache Ibuprofen, Dexamethasone, Nifedipine, etc. this must be used upon doctor’s suggestion. So, consult before you use them.

So, try to figure out the symptoms at the very beginning and descend lower to take some rest or to acclimatize yourself, and the next day when your condition goes normal you can ascend further to the same place.

Kumar Lamsal

Kumar Lamsal

Kumar is one of the Co-founders and Managing directors of Discover Altitude holding 18 years of experience in the tourism sector of Nepal. He has trekked to almost all the popular regions of Nepal and is an authorized trekking and tour guide.

Started his career as a porter to support his study, now holds MPhil and LLB degree, and is doing his Ph.D. in religious studies. He loves traveling to the Himalayas and has deep knowledge about religion, culture, and history.

Kumar is also involved in the teaching sector as a part-timer to deliver his research related to the cultural and religious diversity of Nepal and is the one who mostly answers your queries giving them his personal touch through his decade-long experience in the tourism sector of Nepal.