What Every Mountaineer Should Know about High-altitude Sickness
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change ~Charles Darwin
“The core motivation behind Pranayama is to increase your lung capacity” our yoga instructor said.
“How is that significant?” a fellow practitioner asked.
“If you ever experience High-altitude sickness,you will value your lungs” snapped the instructor.
Into the thin air
At altitudes greater than 8000 feet,oxygen levels in the atmosphere drops down to 60 percent of thebody is great at acclimatizing to lesser oxygen if rested properly and kept at ambient temperatures(e.g. air travel).However,while hiking at high altitude (>10000ft) temperatures drop rapidly, causing a part of oxygen being expended maintaining your body begins the first stage of altitude sickness viz Acute Mountain Sickness.
Digestion is the first amongst the body functions to be affected by lower oxygen levels, which in turn snowballs into many other problems.Primary symptoms include headache, vomiting, feeling tired, trouble sleeping, and dizziness,often manifesting themselves six to ten hours after ascent and generally subside in one to two days, but they occasionally lead to HAPE and HACE.
HAPE and HACE
Fluid accumulation in the tissues of lungs or brain lead to either high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), or high altitude cerebral edema (HACE) respectively. HAPE can progress rapidly and is often fatal. Symptoms include fatigue, severe dyspnea at rest, cough that is initially dry but may progress to produce pink, frothy sputum. HACE is a life-threatening condition that can lead to coma or death. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, visual impairment, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, loss of coordination, paralysis, and confusion.
Having traumatized the readers with AMS, HAPE and HACE, it’s time for some good news.
Owing to peer pressure (and individual ego of course! ), we fail to acknowledge the symptoms and keep exerting ourfirst step to treat High altitude problems is to acknowledge the symptoms and inform yours peers and leaders at the the symptoms don’t subsidize after sufficient hydration and rest, descending to 8000 feet is the sure shot way.However in certain cases (>14000 feet) descent might be prohibitive, since these diseases climb onto you quickly.Oxygen treatment and a dose of Diamox(consult your physician and trek leaders before using this) may buy you some time to descend.Having said that, Prevention is always better than cure.
A popular measure to prevent High altitude sickness is slow ascent i.e. upto a 1000 feet a day which might be impractical, owing to tight schedules.However, you might consider the measures below:
- A conscious effort to increase your lung capacity with regular Pranayama(Kapalabhati, Nadi Shodhana and Ujjayi Pranayama) might help you.
- Sufficient rest prior to the onset of the trek is often a neglected since,a rested body acclimates quicker than a tired one.
- With consultation of physician, a course on diamox before the onset of the trek might help you with acclimatization.
It’s a common myth that physical fitness helps you acclimate faster, while it is not true. On the contrary, it might make you more susceptible since, you climb faster, leading to rapid change in elevation.
They say ‘Age is just a number’. High Altitude sickness is independent of age, since adaptability is the key.However, people above 60 might face problems due to deteriorating lung capacity.
The Mountain Romance
I beseech everyone, particularly the youth of the nation and the world, to have some kind of a romance with some mountain – a mountain that challenges you, a mountain that draws you, a mountain that makes you submissive by its sheer size, strength, and presence ~Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
Even at the ripe age of 65, Sadhguru treads an yearly journey to the legendary Kailashhas reached the Annapurna Base Camp this year.
One might be tempted to ask: why such risks having known the challenges and threats associated with Mountaineering? Well, that’s what makes life worth living!
However, do not be foolhardy. Research, rethink, re adjust and finally Rejoice!
Author : Prasad Kulkarni
Instagram Id : @pmklick