Everest Base Camp Trek: How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

The Everest region is the highest in Nepal, averaging 4,000 meters (12,800 ft.) with Mt. Everest (8848m; 28,313 ft.) being the tallest mountain in the world. The combination of cold, wind, strong sun, low oxygen, and dry air creates an inhospitable atmosphere for trekkers on the high altitude trail. As we hike higher, there is less oxygen in the air to breathe. According to the Center for Disease Control, at an altitude above 2800 meters, there is 60% less oxygen than at sea level. Altitude illness can afflict anyone. If untreated, it will end your trek short and in some cases prove to be life threatening.

Everest Base Camp with clinic(1)

According to Gyalpo Sherpa, who has served 15 years as a guide for the Everest region, hiking in areas above Dingboche puts one at risk for altitude illness. If you acclimatized well at Namche Bazaar and Dingboche, and show no sign of major altitude sickness, you should be able to reach Everest Base Camp, says Sherpa. Altitude sickness occurs usually at Dingboche or Lobuche if not acclimatized properly, according to Sherpa.

Understand the different types of Altitude Illness at an Everest Base Camp Trek

  • AMS: Acute Mountain Sickness is the least dangerous form of Altitude Sickness and most common in an Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. Symptoms include light headache, nausea and loss of appetite, insomnia, unusual fatigue, lethargy, and sluggishness. In most cases, it is treatable on the trial and many make it to the EBC. If not treated well, it could be life threatening.
  • HAPE: High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (fluids collected in the lungs) feels like you are drowning and makes breathing very difficult. The chances are low that this will occur in an Everest Base Camp trek. If not treated immediately, it could be fatal.
  • HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema (fluids swelled in the brain in which it feels like one’s head is going to explode) is the least common and most fatal form of Altitude Sickness. The chances are very low that this will occur in an Everest Base Camp trek. If not treated immediately, it could be life threatening.

How to prevent altitude sickness during an Everest Base Camp Trek?

Walk the talk

  • Climb slowly; this gives your body time to acclimatize. Walk at conversation pace and breathe normally. No need to worry if you are behind, we have extra staff who will accompany you on the trial. Nobody cares who is first!

Climb high/ Sleep low

  • Sleep at the lowest possible altitude. This gives your body time to recuperate and adjust. We designed our trek so that you walk high and sleep at a lower altitude. For example, with areas above Namche Bazaar, we gain altitude during the day and return to lower altitude in the evening for overnight sleep.

Push the fluids

  • Stay hydrated; drink plenty of water. We encourage clients to drink 5 liters of fluid or more. We are the first in the travel industry who practice sustainable tourism, with proper boiled water. (we have a water man)

No alcohol

  • Avoid alcohol; there will be plenty of time to indulge when you return to lower altitudes!

Know yourself

  • Have you had altitude sickness before? If so, you have a higher risk of having it again. Consult your doctor. Be aware of diamox, it can unmask other symptoms.

Train at home

  • I recently had 3 brothers form Salt Lake City who successfully completed the EBC trek in 10 days. They hiked regularly at  home around 9,000 ft. (2743 meters) and above for many weeks. I believe training at home routinely makes it easier and faster to acclimatize into the thin air. Although altitude sickness can even effect anyone even a fit trekker. Altitude illness does not discriminate!

Be honest

  • If you suffer AMS on the trail, please report to your guide. Don’t try to hide it or “tough it up”. It happens to everyone, even Sherpa returning home from a lower elevation. This careless act can result in an emergency evacuation or death in some cases.

What happens if I Suffer Altitude Illness during an Everest Base Camp Trek?

fishtail helicopter rescue

  • Many suffer light headaches which is normal. Over the counter medicine should relive pain; however, if it continues after reaching Tengboche, inform your guide! In most cases, it is treatable on the trail and many make it to the EBC. We bring an oxy-meter to measure oxygen intake.
  • If you suffer severe altitude Illness (severe or constant headaches with difficulty breathing or vomiting), or HAPE or HACE, supplementary oxygen and a Gamow bag will be used. You will immediately be escorted to a lower altitude and brought to the nearest clinic for treatment.
  • If the clinic or the main guide decides you need further treatment, helicopter evacuation will be arranged ASAP.

There are two altitude clinics ran by Himalayan Rescue, a non-government organization in the Everest region. One is located at Namche Bazar (3,440m; 11,008 ft.) and the other one at Pheriche (4200 m; 13,779 ft.). Both provide 24 hours emergency services.

How does Sonam Adventures go the extra mile to make Everest Base Camp Trek safer, successful, and enjoyable?

  • Our guides are Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) course trained and have intensive experience dealing with altitude sickness.
  • We gain no more than 550 m; 1815 ft. a day (above 3300 meters; 10,824 ft.) with a slow walk, plenty of breaks, and rest days for acclimatization.
  • We designed our trek so you gain altitude during the day and return to lower elevation for overnight sleep. This gives time for your body to adjust to the thin air.
  • We are one of the few travel companies who bring an oxy-meter, supplementary oxygen, and a Gamow bag in case trekkers suffer altitude sickness.
  • In case you suffer altitude sickness and are forced to evacuate, you will be covered by our travel medical insurance. We are the first in the travel industry to provide free travel medical insurance (included in all Sonam Adventures trips).
  • Complimentary water (proper boiled water) during the trek reduces the purchase of plastic bottled water. Water is scarce and expensive along the trail (a sustainable practice).
  • Plus, we have the best travel features in the travel industry and the guaranteed best price in North America. See,“Why Sonam Adventures?”

We hope by addressing altitude sickness concerns on Everest Base Camp treks, you will be better prepared for the trek. We will do everything in our power to make sure your trip to Everest Base Camp is safe, enjoyable, and successful. Please ask lots of questions and contact us anytime. Our Himalayan Expert will be available to speak (+1 888 388-5308) to you 24/7. Email us at enquiry@sonamadventures.com
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