When considering the dangers of high altitude climbing, most people tend to think of hypothermia or injuries are due to falls. However, a silent danger that is often ignored is hypoxia.

How do climbers combat this potentially deadly condition? The answer lies in pulse oximeters. In this guide, we’ll explain exactly how hypoxia occurs, why it’s much more likely to happen at high altitudes and how a handy little device can mean the difference between life and death.

Hypoxia Explained

Hypoxia occurs when the body is deprived of sufficient oxygen. Low oxygen levels can potentially lead to damage to the brain and heart. Severe cases can lead to sudden death.

When in high altitudes, pressure levels are vastly different to those at sea level. The higher you go, the lower the oxygen levels. Considering our bodies need it to function effectively, this can lead to serious problems. That’s why we have pressurized cabins in airplanes, for example.

The more stress you place on your body, the more oxygen it needs. So when you combine high exertion activities such as climbing, you have a recipe for a potential disaster. Lack of oxygen to the brain can have a huge impact on mental judgment, reaction times, as well as reasoning. Many deaths that have been directly attributed to injury and hypothermia are thought to be linked to hypoxia.

Pulse Oximeters = Life Savers

Considering the dangers of hypoxia, it’s important that climbers don’t overexert themselves. However, it can often be difficult to gauge this naturally, meaning that it’s often too late to normalize oxygen levels.

The answer? Portable pulse oximeters for climbers are the ideal solution, allowing users to quickly measure oxygen levels in the blood accurately and without fuss. Should the readings show low levels relative to the expected result, climbers can take the necessary steps required. For example, temporary rest combined with taking supplementary oxygen.  

How Does the Device Work?

In terms of build, the unit is a relatively simple device. It has a clamp fitting where the user inserts a finger. Two wavelengths of light are then shone on the tissue, after which device can compute oxygen levels based on the amount of light that is absorbed.

The truly remarkable aspect of the device is that it can be used by anyone. You don’t need to be a medical professional, though it is advised that you get a run-through on how to interpret results. In addition, make sure you breathe normally while taking the readings.

Previously, pulse oximeters were bulky devices not suited to portable uses. However, modern units are light, accurate and professional grade. In addition, some models have been specifically built to withstand heavy use. This means you don’t have to worry about the device breaking down while up on the mountain. You should also opt for a device that is motion-resistant, meaning it’s ideal for the circumstances you’ll find when high up in the mountains.