One of the hardest things for non-climbers to understand is the impact that altitude can have on your body. Unless you’ve been up into the thin air itself, it’s tough to get a sense of how the lack of oxygen can mess with you both physically and mentally. This is especially true when climbing an 8000-meter peak like Everest, where the oxygen in the air at the summit is less than a third of what it is at sea level.
To help us understand what happens when climbing into the so called “Death Zone,” Outside magazine has put together an interesting piece that explains the impact that the dramatically-lowered oxygen levels have on the human body. The article takes a look at the effect his has on the brain and lungs, which are the parts of the human body that are most likely to be effected by altitude sickness. But that’s just the start, as the story also examines how the heart, eyes, gut, and extremities (hands, feet, ears, and nose) are impacted too.
Everyone knows that High Altitude Cerebral Edema and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema are extremely dangerous for climbers, causing fluid to develop on the brain and lungs respectively. But, not everyone knows about how the lack of oxygen causes the heart to work harder or how lowered oxygen can cause spasms in the arteries that supply blood to the eyes too. This can sometimes lead to temporary blindness. Of course, climbing at high altitude can also cause a lack of appetite and mess with the digestive track. In terms of the impact on the extremities, the main challenge is the potential to contract frostbite.
If you follow the mountaineering scene closely, you probably have a good idea of how dangerous the thinner air at altitude can be. But this story breaks it down in a manner that makes it easy to understand exactly what is happening to the body. It is definitely worth a read and could help you to better understand what is happening the next time you find yourself at high altitude too.
Check it out here.
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