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Altitude Sickness on Everest Base Camp Trek

Altitude is one of the great unknowns. You can't train for it and you won't know how your body will deal with it until you're there. But what is altitude sickness, is there any way of preparing for it and what will happen if I start to feel unwell on the trail? I put these questions and more to KE's Operation Manager, Tim, to discuss expectations of altitude on the Everest Base Camp trek.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness can occur at altitudes above 2,500m. As we ascend to higher altitudes, there is less oxygen available to breath. Our bodies will acclimatise to this by producing more red blood cells and by breathing more deeply.

Altitude sickness is the term for medical conditions that can happen when you move to a higher altitude too quickly and your body is unable acclimatise sufficiently.

Is there anything I can do to prepare for the altitude?

The only effective way to prepare for trekking at high altitudes is to spend time at high altitude before the trip, which for most of us is impractical. However, KE itineraries are well designed to allow for adequate altitude acclimatisation.

Can I get altitude sickness on an Everest Basecamp trek?

Yes, you can develop altitude sickness on an Everest Basecamp trek as you will be flying into Lukla at 2,800m and trekking to altitudes of over 5,000m.

How can I prevent against it?

There are some things that you can do to help with the acclimatisation process and prevent altitude sickness. You should ensure that you do not over exert yourself. Walking at a slow and steady pace and taking it easy when you arrive at your overnight accommodation.

It is also important to keep well hydrated. With the exertion and dry air at altitude your body will losing more water than usual, so typically you need drinking an additional 1 – 1.5 litres a day at altitude.

KE leaders are trained in the prevention, recognition and treatment of altitude sickness and will ensure that the correct walking pace is set on your trek and that everyone is drinking enough to keep well hydrated.

What should I do if I start to feel unwell?

AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness is the most common form of altitude sickness and the symptoms can include headache, loss of appetite, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and trouble sleeping. These symptoms can appear soon after reaching high altitudes but will usually disappear as the body acclimatises to the altitude.

If you start to feel unwell you should let your leader know and they will be able to offer advice and keep an eye on you to ensure the symptoms don’t worsen. If you are sharing a room or tent you should let the person you are sharing with know you are feeling unwell so they can contact the leader if necessary.

What will happen if I come down with AMS?

In most cases any symptoms of acute mountain sickness will disappear over time as your body acclimatises to the altitude. However if symptoms persist then the leader would assess your condition and if necessary, you would need to stop ascending any further until your symptoms improved. If symptoms of altitude sickness worsened then it may be necessary to descend to a lower altitude. Usually, descent to a lower altitude will reverse the symptoms of altitude sickness.

In Summary

Altitude sickness is something to be aware of when going to high altitude, however it is not something you should overly worry about. KE itineraries are well designed to allow adequate acclimatisation with a sensible rate of ascent and acclimatisation days where necessary.

In addition, KE leaders are trained in the prevention, recognition and treatment of altitude sickness and will continually monitor the group to allow you to enjoy your holiday.

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