The Khumbu cough, also known as the high altitude hack, is named after the area in the Everest region, althoughit is not specific to Everest. Nearly all people who spend time at extreme altitude (over 5500m) will develop some degree of the Khumbu cough. It is caused by the low humidity and sub zero temperatures experienced at altitude, and is thought to be triggered by over exertion. This leads to an increased breathing rate, which exposes the delicate lung lining to excess cold air, resulting in dried out
membranes and partially damaged bronchi. This causes extreme irritation which manifests itself in the form of a dry, persistent cough which can restrict breathing. Eventually the cough can be so violent and put so much strain on the chest cavity that it causes its victim to tear chest muscles or break ribs.
- Wear a mask which heats and moisturises the air.
- Wear a balaclava at night.
- Wear a mask with a metallic net inserted into a lightweight shell.
- Avoid over exertion.
- Regulate your breathing when necessary.
However if you spot any of the symptoms you should try to treat them as soon as possible. Ignoring it will only make it worse, inhibit your ability and make your climb less enjoyable.
The symptoms include:
- Running nose
- Dry persistent cough
- Clear or white phlegm
The ways to treat these symptoms all involve keeping the bronchial mucosa moist. As the cough is not the result of an infection antibiotics will have no effect.
- Drinking plenty of water, especially hot water. This gives added moisture from the steam.
- Taking plenty of throat lozenges.
- Wearing a balaclava at night.
- Wearing some kind of mask as detailed above.
- Avoiding over exertion so as to keep the breathing rate down and so decrease the volume of cold air passing through your lungs.
- Inhaling oxygen.