Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, is a majestic wonder that attracts mountaineers from all over the world. However, scaling this peak is no easy feat. Many climbers who attempt to climb Mount Everest experience a range of health problems due to the high altitude.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore why people get sick on Mount Everest and what can be done to prevent it.
What is Altitude Sickness?
Altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS), is a condition that occurs when the body is unable to adapt to high altitude conditions. The human body is designed to function at sea level where the air pressure is highest. As we ascend to higher altitudes, the air pressure decreases, which means there is less oxygen available in the air we breathe. The body can adapt to these changes, but it takes time.
When we ascend to high altitudes too quickly, our bodies struggle to adapt. This is what leads to altitude sickness. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, altitude sickness can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs or brain, which can be life-threatening.
Why Does Altitude Sickness Occur on Mount Everest?
Mount Everest is located in the Himalayan mountain range, which is known for its high altitude and extreme weather conditions. The peak of Mount Everest stands at a staggering 29,029 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level. At this altitude, the air pressure is only a third of what it is at sea level, which means there is significantly less oxygen available to breathe.
Climbing to the top of Mount Everest requires spending several days at high altitudes, which puts climbers at risk of developing altitude sickness. Additionally, the extreme weather conditions on Mount Everest can exacerbate altitude sickness symptoms, making it even more challenging to climb.
Who is at Risk of Altitude Sickness?
Anyone can develop altitude sickness, regardless of their age or fitness level. However, some people may be more susceptible to altitude sickness than others. Factors that can increase the risk of altitude sickness include:
- Climbing to high altitudes too quickly
- Staying at high altitudes for an extended period
- Lack of acclimatization
- Alcohol consumption
- Pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory or heart problems
How Can Altitude Sickness Be Prevented?
The best way to prevent altitude sickness is to acclimatize properly. Acclimatization involves spending time at gradually increasing altitudes to allow your body to adjust to the lower oxygen levels. Climbers who are planning to climb Mount Everest typically spend several weeks acclimatizing at lower altitudes before attempting the final ascent.
It’s also important to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol and other substances that can increase the risk of altitude sickness. Climbers should also listen to their bodies and take breaks when necessary. In some cases, climbers may need to descend to lower altitudes if they experience severe altitude sickness symptoms.
How is Altitude Sickness Treated?
Mild cases of altitude sickness can be treated with rest and hydration. Climbers may also be advised to take medication to alleviate symptoms such as headaches. In severe cases of altitude sickness, climbers may need to descend to lower altitudes or receive oxygen therapy. In rare cases, climbers may need to be airlifted off the mountain for emergency medical treatment.
What Are the Long-Term Health Effects of Altitude Sickness?
While most cases of altitude sickness resolve on their own with rest and hydration, repeated exposure to high altitudes can have long-term health effects. Climbers who regularly climb at high altitudes may be at risk of developing chronic mountain sickness, which can cause headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
Additionally, prolonged exposure to high altitudes can lead to permanent lung damage and an increased risk of heart disease. It’s important for climbers to take the necessary precautions to prevent altitude sickness and to seek medical attention if they experience severe symptoms.
What Other Health Risks are Associated with Climbing Mount Everest?
Altitude sickness is not the only health risk associated with climbing Mount Everest. Climbers are also at risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related injuries. Additionally, climbers are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Climbers who use supplemental oxygen to climb Mount Everest are also at risk of oxygen toxicity, which can cause seizures and other neurological symptoms. Furthermore, the extreme physical exertion required to climb Mount Everest can increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
How Can Climbers Prepare for Climbing Mount Everest?
Preparing to climb Mount Everest requires a significant amount of physical and mental preparation. Climbers should work with experienced guides and trainers to develop a comprehensive training plan that includes cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and high-altitude training.
Climbers should also invest in high-quality gear that is specifically designed for high-altitude climbing. This includes insulated clothing, crampons, ice axes, and other essential climbing gear. Climbers should also make sure to bring enough food and water to sustain them throughout the climb.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q: Can anyone climb Mount Everest?
Technically, anyone can attempt to climb Mount Everest. However, climbing Mount Everest requires a significant amount of training, experience, and resources. Climbers should have a solid understanding of high-altitude climbing and should work with experienced guides and trainers to prepare for the climb.
Q: How much does it cost to climb Mount Everest?
Climbing Mount Everest is a costly endeavor. The cost of climbing Mount Everest can range from $30,000 to $130,000, depending on the level of support and services provided by the guiding company.
Q: How many people die climbing Mount Everest each year?
On average, around five people die climbing Mount Everest each year. The majority of these deaths are due to altitude sickness or other high-altitude-related injuries.
Q: Can you climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen?
It is possible to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, but it is much more challenging. Climbers who attempt to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen are at a higher risk of developing altitude sickness and other high-altitude-related health problems.
Climbing Mount Everest is an incredible feat of human endurance and determination, but it also comes with significant health risks. Altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related injuries are just a few of the health risks associated with climbing Mount Everest.
It’s essential for climbers to take the necessary precautions to prevent altitude sickness and to seek medical attention if they experience severe symptoms. By working with experienced guides and trainers and preparing properly, climbers can increase their chances of a safe and successful climb.