How do you limit the effects of altitude sickness?
There are a few things that you can do when you're on the trek to help your body adjust to the extreme high altitude.
4 Top Tips to Prevent & Manage Altitude Sickness
When you're trekking towards Everest Base Camp or heading up to the summit of Kilimanjaro you will notice that the slower you go, the easier it will be to breathe. It's super important to manage your body in a way that enables it to adjust to the altitude. Psychologically, this can be difficult. I'm a quick walker myself when I'm out and about in the mountains of the UK and I have to force myself to slow down when trekking at high altitude. One of the best pieces of advice that was given to me was that you walk at a pace where you can actually hold a conversation with someone else and not be out of breath.
As you get higher it does get difficult and there are times where you have to walk up some relatively steep paths. Especially on the EBC trek leading up to Namche Bazaar or Tengboche, or when you are on your acclimatisation hikes where it's good to test yourself. This is where we climb and actually hit a certain height and then hike back down where we sleep at a lower altitude.
The speed that you want to aim for is where you are able to walk and still be able to hold a conversation with your guide, your trekking partner, or whoever you're with. The guides will keep a watchful eye on your pace and if you are going too quick they will say, "Look, slow down". Obviously, it's up to you control your speed yourself, but a little guidance never hurts and it's good to remind yourself, "Right, I'm going too fast here" and slow your pace.
This so important!
If you find that you're struggling with the high altitude it's likely that you haven't drunk enough water. Ideally, you want to be aiming for at least four or five litres a day.
What? That's a lot of water!
It does seem like a large amount of water, especially if you're not great at drinking water on a daily basis but it's super important. It can be the difference between you getting to Everest Base Camp or not. The more hydrated you are, the better your body will adjust and the better time you will have.
You can get unlucky of course and anything can happen as anyone can get altitude sickness at any time, even the locals. However, keeping hydrated will massively help you at high altitude.
A great tip to make drinking so much water more palatable is to bring small squeezy bottles of squash with you for the trek - these add flavour and makes staying hydrated that much easier!
3. Look after your body.
This sounds obvious, but again, it makes a huge difference. Firstly we suggest you stay off the alcohol on the way up as it has a significant detrimental effect on hydration. Whilst on the way down, go for it. You would have successfully completed your awesome trek and it's great to celebrate this amazing achievement. If you're in Nepal you could have a celebratory drink in the worlds highest Irish pub in Namche Bazaar and toast your success! Or in Tanzania you could share some bubbly and beers with your guides following your successful summit of Kili.
Eating well is key. In the remote Everest region, it can be quite challenging to keep up with your fruit and vegetable intake. Aiming for five portions of fruit and veg a day is difficult so taking vitamin tablets to help your immune system does help. Additionally, we strongly suggest staying off the meat when trekking in Nepal. Some of the meat is fine and personally, I have eaten meat at altitude and not had an issue but I've seen many people get massively sick after eating meat on a trek and since then I've made the choice to stay veggie for the treks. The refrigeration is nowhere near what we are used to in the western world and the last thing you need is to be sick whilst trekking. You need all the energy you have!
Another tip I found that works for me is to take aspirin once a day. This really helps with adjusting with altitude because it thins your blood a bit. It just takes the edge off, if that makes sense. Your body goes through physiological changes at high altitude and one of these is that your blood thickens. Your body is dealing with an oxygen deprived environment so it adjusts and changes and that's one of the things it does. It thickens your blood. It produces more red blood cells. If you cut or scratch yourself, you won't actually bleed that much. It's crazy the first time you see this but it really does have an effect. If you do take aspirin to thin your blood, it levels things out a bit. This is just from experience and my personal opinion and before taking aspirin, it's always worth having a chat with your GP or a local travel clinic like Nomad.
Using Diamox is always a contentious subject in the trekking and climbing industry and it divides opinion. However, from my own experience, I have only positive things to say about it. I've seen customers who have struggled to walk at 3500m due to the altitude, then take Diamox and only a few days later be at 4500m and be perfectly fine. It works wonders at high altitude. All of our guides carry Diamox and if you are struggling, will offer this to you to help you adjust. I was sceptical at first but I've seen literally dozens of customers who wouldn't have made Everest base camp if they hadn't taken it.
As always, we recommend seeking professional advice on taking Diamox, but in my opinion, it's a tool there for you to use if the going gets tough.
Remember - pace, plenty of water, look after yourself and just have a damn good time.
Dealing with Altitude Sickness Anxiety & Support
If you come onto the trek are constantly worrying about altitude sickness it will likely have a negative effect on your trek. You've got to try and stay in a positive mindset. Prepare using the above tips and get on with enjoying where you are. You'll soon forget the odd headache and you will have a much better time. If things do become serious or you have any concerns our guides will look after you and give you the best advice. They are hugely experienced at high altitude and are well trained to notice the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness.
Although the team are there for you, it's always worth being mindful of a few things that will certainly help prevent any issues.
When you book your trip with EverTrek we send all our customers a personalised EverTrek Trip Planner & give them access to our exclusive Pre-Acclimatisation Online Programme which will ensure you're fully prepared physically, practically and mentally before you embark on your adventure.
Give us a call if you have any questions about altitude or any of our treks on 02920 003216 or email us [email protected] and either myself or one of the team will get back to you.
MD & Head Yeti