Around the world, hundreds of thousands of people travel up to the high altitude places for the sake of tourism. For some people it is an adventure and while others go for different sports like hiking, trekking, mountaineering etc. Sometimes altitude can be very travel friendly. But in settings where you’re on foot, it can cause altitude-sickness and can even be fatal in some cases.
Altitude affects human body in many ways, sometimes it causes only nausea and dizziness but it can also cause fever in some cases. Symptoms can always vary between person-to-person. Let’s discuss how altitude affects human body:
Difference between sea level and altitude
Air we breathe has the same consistency whether we are on the sea level or on a high altitude place. Even if a person is on top of the K2 or in New York City the percentage of nitrogen and oxygen and all the other components remain just the same. However, the partial pressure of oxygen in air changes with altitude.
At the sea level we have a calm and stable partial pressure of oxygen which is about 159 mmHg. Whereas, when a person travels towards altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen jumps to 8,848 mmHg.
In other words, on high altitudes there is low pressure between the molecules of oxygen in the air to push them together, resulting in low amount of oxygen molecules in the same amount of air at sea level. This is the reason why it is hard to breathe on high altitude places.
How do high altitudes affect our body?
As soon as we are exposed to a high altitude environment our breathing gets hitched and the ventilation is increased which means the body starts breathing more because of the less amount of oxygen which goes in the body via every breathe.
After the breathing increases, our body starts feeling weak. The reason for this weakness is excess of water loss in body. Now you must be thinking, how can a human body lose its fluids in a cold environment? When breathing in cold surroundings, you must have felt white thick fog leave your mouth. That fog is basically water escaping your body while you breathe and it might look a small amount but these water vapors is actually a lot of water leaving your body.
Altitude can increase your metabolism which means you are to have a more efficient digestion system on high altitude places, which result in your increased hunger. In this case you will have to eat more than usual to maintain a neutral energy balance.
Along with all other changes occurring in the human body, one more thing to worry about is that you will find Physical activities so tiring. Due to the low levels of compressed molecules of oxygen in the air even throwing a ball will tire you up, you will have a racing heartbeat and chest aches.
After days or weeks of living in such environment, human body starts to adapt all the working mechanisms. The hitched breathing might still be there, but body manages to use little oxygen, eating cycle adapts a routine, blood sugar levels are maintained along with hemoglobin levels in the body.
What is altitude sickness?
Have you ever noticed why do you feel lethargic and sick when you ascend to high altitude places? It is known as altitude sickness. The symptoms of this sickness are nausea, lethargy, fever in some cases, dizziness, headache and lack of sleep or disturbed sleeping cycles.
These symptoms can appear after 6 hours of exposure to moderate to high altitude places. This sickness is the reason why people who hike are advised to keep a slow pace while hiking.
But! All of this should never stop you from exploring new beautiful high altitude places. Just maintain a slow pace and keep going because this world and its hidden scenery are worth the trek. Happy exploring! 🙂