High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

High altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) is a condition where the red blood cells actually begin to leak a fluid. The lungs of the victim start to fill up with this fluid, usually the right lung first and then the left.

Symptoms usually start as a persistent cough, shortness of breath and increased heart rate. In more advanced HAPE, bubbling or gurgling noises can be heard, lips and under fingernails may appear to be slightly grayish or blue, and the victim may start to cough up a pinkish, frothy fluid.

Descent of at least 3,000 feet (914 meters) is critical and most patients improve very rapidly when this is done. Some expeditions to extreme altitudes carry a portable hyperbaric chamber, such as a Gamow bag. The victim is put inside the chamber, and when it is pumped up to 2 psi. the air pressure inside simulates a descent of around 8,000 feet (2,438 m.).

However, this is usually used to "buy time" for the victim, and a physical descent (maybe even professional medical attention) is ultimately necessary for full recovery.

Although there is nothing you can do to become completely immune to HAPE, following a well-thought-out acclimatization plan helps most people keep from getting it. As always with mountain climbing, go with a competent guide.
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