Mountain Sickness on Mount Kilimanjaro

Coping With Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro

Towering 19,341 feet (5,895 meters) above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro’s lofty altitude presents a major risk factor for trekkers – acute mountain sickness (AMS). Also called altitude sickness, this condition requires caution and preparation to avoid. Here’s what to know about identifying, treating and preventing altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro:

What is Altitude Sickness?

AMS results from reduced oxygen in the air at higher elevations. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and trouble sleeping. It can progress to the potentially fatal high altitude cerebral or pulmonary edema without prompt treatment.

Altitude Sickness Risk Factors on Kilimanjaro:

  • Speed of Ascent – Climbing too rapidly increases risk. Routes should include acclimatization days.
  • High Elevations – Over 9,000 feet risks start. Summit elevations near 20,000 feet are very dangerous.
  • Physical Exertion – Hard exercise exacerbates symptoms by needing more oxygen.
  • Dehydration – Inadequate hydration makes altitude sickness worse.
  • Pre-existing Conditions – Heart or lung conditions increase susceptibility.

AMS Warning Signs:

  • Persistent headache
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Fatigue, weakness or dizziness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Swelling of face, hands or feet
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Lack of coordination or confusion

Treatment and Prevention:

  • Ascend slowly – Follow prescribed acclimatization schedule.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink at least 3-4 liters of fluids daily.
  • Avoid overexertion – Keep a sensible, comfortable pace.
  • Take it easy – Rest and relax versus rushing between camps.
  • Monitor health – Report any symptoms immediately.
  • Descend if symptoms occur – Even 500 meters can help recovery.
  • Medications – Diamox, ibuprofen and others can relieve or prevent symptoms.
  • Supplemental oxygen – Some guides carry portable oxygen for emergency use.

Evacuation may be required in severe cases unresponsive to treatment. Altitude sickness can escalate rapidly so prompt action is essential at onset of symptoms. Following a proper acclimatization plan, keeping hydrated and resting when needed is key to avoiding this dangerous condition on Kilimanjaro.

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