It is 04:00, and outside Margherita Hut the world is pitch black. The clocks of the test subjects in the altitude sickness study sound their alarms. As the first group of mountaineers leave their lodgings for climbing tours in the Valais Alps, the study participants are already busy delivering the first set of data: headaches, quality of sleep, nausea, dizziness. All of these are noted in a daily journal, graded on a scale according to severity. Then they reach for the blood pressure monitor and attach the clip that measures oxygen saturation in the blood to a fingertip. “We’ve all gotten used to it by now,” says DLR investigator Ulrich Limper. The same applies to the subsequent hop onto the scales. Each morning, test subjects record their bodyweight.
The first samples are collected at 04:30. The participants are asked to give blood, saliva and urine. When the samples are analysed at the DLR laboratory in Cologne, it will be important to determine whether protein molecules from the lungs have entered the bloodstream, and whether other protein molecules are present in the urine. These factors would indicate that the hypothesis of the study is accurate: when the body is exposed to reduced atmospheric pressure and a lack of oxygen, inflammation will form in the body that causes the blood vessels to become permeable, hence allowing fluid and proteins to seep from the vessels and into the surrounding tissue. read more