Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness

Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness

Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness

Discussing Kilimanjaro is incomplete without addressing its most common challenge Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness. This is because the ascent demands reaching close to 6,000 m above sea level, where the thin air impacts all climbers, regardless of their fitness level. A significant proportion of travelers who take on the Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing expedition pose threats related to altitude sickness. 

And, as altitude sickness and safety go hand-in-hand, addressing it becomes all the more important. So, let’s begin by discussing the details related to altitude sickness and how to endure it, and what options you have to overcome it. But, before that let’s first understand what is altitude sickness.

UNDERSTANDING KILIMANJARO ALTITUDE SICKNESS

Simply put altitude sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), results from the adverse effects of high altitude on health. It occurs when the body struggles to adapt to the decreased atmospheric pressure and oxygen levels at high elevations. 

The human body is generally well-adapted to functioning at sea level, but as altitude increases, the air becomes thinner and the available oxygen decreases. This can lead to a range of symptoms and complications, collectively referred to as altitude sickness.

Therefore, the primary cause of altitude sickness is the body's inability to adjust rapidly enough to reduced oxygen levels, often due to climbers ascending too quickly to higher elevations.

Good To Know: Though a major challenge, it is perfectly fine even if you get altitude sickness during Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing . A significant population attempting Kilimanjaro Climb is affected by a mild form of AMS. So, there is nothing to worry about. The important thing is to take up timely steps to manage it.

TYPES OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS

There are three primary forms of Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness-

  • Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
  • High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)
  • High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

An Insight: AMS is the mildest form, while HACE and HAPE are severe and potentially fatal if not addressed promptly.

SYMPTOMS OF MILD ALTITUDE SICKNESS 

Most of the time the symptoms that appear during Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing are very normal. These mild symptoms appear only after some time after you have moved to higher altitudes. Mostly it is a bad hangover and can get worse at night after a decrease in respiratory drive. Other symptoms of mild AMS include:

  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue 
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Irritability
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Rapid heart rate

How to treat mild symptoms of altitude sickness? They can be easily treated. While the most effective treatment is to descend in case you feel like it. However, as an immediate resort, you can take rest and fluid intake. Some Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness Medications that can come in handy in case of mild symptoms include: 

Typical Daily Schedule for Kilimanjaro Trek

Medications 

Why for? 

Acetazolamide 

To treat high altitude sickness 

Ibuprofen and Paracetamol 

Headaches 

Promethazine 

Nausea

Pro Tip: Remember that mild altitude sickness symptoms are common and they subside as soon as the body acclimatizes.  They do not even interfere with normal activity and that simply means you can carry on with your Kilimanjaro Climb. Additionally, you can keep some ginger, lavender oil, garlic, and cloves handy to relieve yourself from mild symptoms of Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness

SEVERE SYMPTOMS OF ALTITUDE SICKNESS

Though rare, it is still important to keep yourself aware of every possibility when going on Kilimanjaro Climbing Tours . As these symptoms may create severe issues, if left untreated, it is important to convey your symptoms to your guide and take immediate action. The list of severe symptoms that one might encounter on Kilimanjaro are: 

  • Chest congestion
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Fast and shallow breathing 
  • Inability to walk by lacking balance
  • Confusion or social withdrawal
  • Pale complexion or discoloration
  • Blue or grey lips or fingernails

What to do in case of emergency? For severe cases of Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness , it is advisable to immediately descend for about 2000 feet to a much lower elevation. This can be followed by doctor visits. These cases are rare as your Kilimanjaro Guides will make sure you are acclimatizing well and multiple procedures ensure proper acclimatization is done. 

WHAT ARE HAPE AND HACE-THEIR SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENT

When severe symptoms of altitude sickness are left untreated, it can lead to life-threatening conditions which might affect vital organs such as the lungs and brain. Two conditions associated with these severe altitude sicknesses; are

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)HACE is a severe form of altitude sickness characterized by the swelling of brain tissue due to fluid leakage. HACE is relatively rare but can be fatal if not treated immediately.  The symptoms and treatment of both these conditions are tabularized below:

SYMPTOMS OF HACE

Severe headache, Confusion or disorientation, Impaired balance or coordination, Hallucinations, Seizures, and Coma.

TREATMENT

Moving down to a lower altitude

Taking a steroid dexamethasone

Using bottled oxygen

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE): HAPE occurs when fluid accumulates in the lungs, impairing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Like HACE, HAPE is a rare but life-threatening condition.

SYMPTOMS OF HAPE

Shortness of breath at rest, Persistent cough (sometimes with frothy sputum), Chest pain or tightness, Cyanosis (bluish skin color), Rapid breathing and increased heart rate, Extreme fatigue, Weakness or inability to exercise

TREATMENT

Moving down to a lower altitude

Taking a steroid dexamethasone

Using bottled oxygen

ACCLIMATISATION: THE WAY TO OVERCOME KILIMANJARO ALTITUDE SICKNESS 

The most effective way to Avoid Altitude Sickness Kilimanjaro is to acclimatize properly. Acclimatization is the process by which your body adapts to the reduced oxygen and atmospheric pressure at high elevations. It typically involves a gradual ascent, allowing your body to adjust to the changing conditions. 

The process of acclimatization takes one to three days at a particular altitude. That is why choosing the right Kilimanjaro Route that offers a good acclimatization profile is the key to avoiding potential threats related to altitude sickness. Some acclimatization procedures that can be adopted to make sure you reach the summit safely during Kilimanjaro Climbing Tours include the following:

  • Climb High and Sleep Low: Many Kilimanjaro Routes incorporate "climb high, sleep low" strategies, in which climbers ascend to a higher altitude during the day but descend to sleep at a lower elevation. This helps the body adjust more effectively to changing conditions.
  • Staying Hydrated: Proper hydration is essential when climbing at high altitudes. The low humidity and increased respiratory rate at high elevations can lead to dehydration, which can exacerbate altitude sickness symptoms. So, drink plenty of water and avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption, both of which can contribute to dehydration.
  • Climb Slowly:A slow and gradual ascent is crucial for successful acclimatization. You will hear your Kilimanjaro Guides use the phrase “pole, pole” now and then. 

This translates to “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. It is generally recommended to climb for  4 to 7 hours per day during your trek. And around 10 to 14 hours of the climb is expected on the summit day when the oxygen levels are minimum as you approach the peak. The slower you go, the more chances to successfully reach the summit.  

Our Recommendations: We generally recommend our climbers take up either the Lemosho Route or the Machame Route when Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro as these routes provide the best climb-high and sleep-low opportunities. 

FINALLY, SOME TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL KILIMANJARO CLIMB 

Consider the following tips for a successful Mount Kilimanjaro Climb

  • Choose a reputable tour operator who employ experienced guides.
  • Train and prepare for the climb, both physically and mentally. 
  • Select a route that allows for proper acclimatization.
  • Listen to your body and communicate any symptoms to your guide.
  • Stay positive and enjoy the journey.

CONQUER KILIMANJARO- OUTSMART ALTITUDE SICKNESS 

Kilimanjaro Altitude Sickness is a significant concern for climbers attempting to summit the majestic mountain. By understanding its causes, symptoms, and prevention strategies, you can improve your chances of a successful and safe ascent. 

Remember, proper acclimatization, hydration, nutrition, and listening to your body are essential components of a successful Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing expedition. With the right preparation and mindset, you can conquer Africa's highest peak and create memories for a lifetime.

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