The Khumbu cough, also referred to as the high altitude hack, is a cough caused by the low humidity and temperatures associated with high altitudes.
The Khumbu cough is named after the valley that leads up to Mount Everest in Nepal, but the cough itself is not specific to the Everest region.
Research shows that nearly all people who spend lengthy times at altitude develop some degree of a cough, and hence the symptoms are quite common with high altitude mountaineers and even trekkers to destinations like Everest Base Camp.
The mechanism that triggers the Khumbu cough is not entirely understood, but it is thought that the combination of exertion, sub-zero temperatures and low humidity at high altitude results in the faster breathing of cold, dry air that literally dries out the lung lining and bronchi. A drier membrane lining of the lungs results in an irritation that is expressed in a dry, persistent hacking cough.
In its most severe forms the Khumbu cough can result in the victim coughing so hard and frequently that they tear chest muscles or even break ribs!!
Assuming you are climbing or trekking at high altitude, the early symptoms that you are suffering from the Khumbu cough are:
If you notice these symptoms then the best treatment involves trying to keep your bronchi moist by:
Like all medical issues the best treatment is prevention. Here are our top tips for preventing the Khumbu cough:
We hope this article on the Khumbu cough helps you prepare for and avoid the nasty hack that is associated with high altitude adventures. Any questions? Leave a comment below!
References: (1) High Altitude Medicine
Andrew is one of the senior writers at Mountain IQ. A native of South Africa, Andrew has hiked and climbed all over the world. His favourite destination is Nepal and his most memorable hike was to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro!