Altitude Sickness is a major concern when climbing Kilimanjaro. The competitive nature of tour operators encourages climbers to go for shorter itineraries which denies the chance for acclimatization. Short climbing programs like 5 days reduce your chance of successfully climbing to the peak of Kilimanjaro.
The truth is, even on longer itineraries a large proportion of people climbing Kilimanjaro will suffer from mild symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness. Read more about AMS
The human body is built to resist and adapt to conditions. Even at high altitudes, our bodies can adapt to it. But you should help your body to do so.
How to prevent altitude sickness?
Acclimatize prior to the climb
The best way to acclimatize is by climbing Mount Meru prior to Kilimanjaro. It is also an excellent option. Meru climbing takes 3 to 4 days to ascend and descend from its summit. This is very important as it keeps your body fit and creates the adaptation to higher altitudes prior to Kilimanjaro climbing.
Easier said than done if you live at sea level but if you are able to spend time at high altitude prior to the actual Kilimanjaro climb then this is the very best way to avoid altitude sickness.
Focus on breathing exercise
Breathe deeply, breathe slowly. In everyday life, we take breathing for granted, but here you should really focus on it. It helps your body to circulate oxygen but also helps you to remove fatigue.
Follow the leader. Listen to your guide
You will get sick of your guides telling you to Pole, Pole, but they are right! If you overdo it by pushing too hard you are likely to pay for it later. Many clients feel fit and able to run fast on trails. Reaching the peak of Kilimanjaro has nothing to do with how strong you’re.
Your guides are well experienced on trails and they have skills to help you to touch the summit “pole pole”.If there is only one phrase of Swahili to learn on Kilimanjaro, then it’s definitely ‘pole pole’ or ‘slowly, slowly. Listen, observe and move slowly.
Keep well hydrated, taking on at least 4 liters of fluids every day you’re on the climb. And
avoid alcohol, tobacco, and any drugs with a depressant effect (even sleeping tablets), as
these can contribute to altitude sickness. Getting up in the middle of the cold night may be an unpleasant thought but altitude dehydrates you and the better you hydrate the quicker your body is able to acclimatize. (You should also avoid all alcohol)
Even though you may not feel like it you should eat as much as you possibly can at every meal. This will give you plenty of energy and help you to feel great. Keep your calorie-count high, eating well to keep energy levels up. Eating well also helps me to keep warm and sleep well at night.
Communicate. Be honest about how you feel.
It’s very common for your guides to ask questions about your health. No matter how you feel, don’t be afraid to speak out. Others feel it will be the end of your trip, but the earlier treatment of any symptoms of mountain sickness will help you to keep going. Give an alert for any symptoms. You can either halt your ascend or descend low to allow recovery.
Sleeping well in a tent is an acquired skill. Spend a few nights out in your tent and sleeping bag prior to your climb so that you have your routine nailed and are used to sleeping in a sleeping bag on a hard surface. It could not be the same as your comfort room at home but it’s an adventure worth doing.
Stay Positive and feel relaxed
Your fear attracts diseases, stay calm and positive. You can experience mild altitude sickness ( like a hangover). But you should learn to stay positive and relax. Don’t think that every headache is cerebral oedema and every cough pulmonary oedema as this is unlikely. By relaxing and enjoying the climb you are far more likely to have a trouble-free experience on Kilimanjaro.
Book with a reliable tour operator
Choose a responsible operator for your climb, one who does not cut costs and rush you up the mountain. Avoid cheap packages for Kilimanjaro climbing. Cheap always comes with expensive experience. Cheap prices will affect the diet, service delivered, type of guides, etc.
Pro tips: for Acute Mountain Sickness ( AMS)
- If you are feeling unwell at altitude it is altitude sickness until proven otherwise.
- Never Ascend with Symptoms of altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro
- If you are getting worse (or have HACE or HAPE), go down at once.
- Be honest about your health, and save a life.
What are the causes of Altitude sickness?
Fitness does not matter for AMS. Anyone can get mountain sickness. During rapid ascent, if staying more than 12 hours above 2500m. The altitude difference undergone in 24 hours is the determining factor. From 3000 meters and higher, the risk increases when the altitude difference between encampments exceeds 300 meters.
What are the common symptoms of altitude sickness?
Many climbers on Kilimanjaro will experience the early symptoms of Altitude Sickness which include headaches, nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, loss of appetite, and possibly palpitations. DO NOT ASCEND IF YOUR SYMPTOMS FAIL TO IMPROVE. DESCEND IF SYMPTOMS GET WORSE AT THE SAME ALTITUDE. If vertigo, vomiting, apathy, staggering, and breathlessness occur, immediate accompanied descent is essential. Failing to descend may be fatal.
How to prevent Acute Mountain Sickness?
Don’t ascents greater than 300 meters per day
If early signs of mountain sickness appear, rest for a day at the same altitude. If they persist or increase, descend at least 500 meters. This could not be possible for Kilimanjaro but can be applicable to other places.
Acetazolamide (Diamox) can be used to help prevent mountain sickness when a gradual ascent cannot be guaranteed. It should NOT be used as an alternative to a gradual ascent. It acts on acid-base balance and stimulates respiration.
It should be combined with a good fluid intake. It should not normally be used in young children except under close medical supervision.
Dose: 125 mg to 250mg twice daily for adults. It should be started 24 hours before ascent and continued only for the first 2 days at high altitude while acclimatization occurs.
Treatments for acute mountain sickness
- Initially simple analgesia (e.g. ibuprofen) for headaches. Sleeping pills should be avoided if possible.
- Acute Mountain Sickness with Cerebral Oedema – Immediate evacuation or descent at least 1000 meters; oxygen if available.
- Dexamethasone (12-20 mg daily) or Prednisolone (40 mg daily).
- Acetazolamide 250 mg orally within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms and 250mg orally 8 hours later.
- High Altitude Pulmonary Oedema – Immediate evacuation or descent. If symptoms are acute and/or descent is impossible or delayed consider Nifedipine (20mg tds).
Some climbers will inevitably suffer altitude sickness symptoms during their climb to Kilimanjaro. A common symptom is often a headache. If this is accompanied by other symptoms, then this could mean that you have altitude sickness. In severe cases, this may result in a need for medical attention.
Our guides and crew always stay alert to monitor the whole situation of the team. It is very important that any symptoms are identified and any signs of altitude sickness are. It is also vital that all climbers are 100% open and honest with the mountain crew members.
Ignoring symptoms, or being less than truthful about how you feel, could be dangerous – even fatal. You might have many other questions on this topic, feel free to ask our team. Many of us have been to Kilimanjaro many times and we have all experienced AMS.
You might also be interested to read our other articles
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