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Altitude Sickness (Acute Mountain Sickness) on Mount Kilimanjaro

Also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), Altitude sickness is a big concern to many of the travelers / hikers attempting to conquer the tallest mountain Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro.

It can happen to anyone, experienced or not. It doesn’t discriminate between sex, gender or physical fitness. It happens to people who ascend to high altitudes too quickly, altitudes above 8,000 feet.

Altitude sickness/illness occurs when your body doesn’t get enough oxygen as a result of the lower oxygen levels at high altitudes. It is rather common for the trekkers on Mt. Kilimanjaro to get altitude sickness because of the mountains’ rapid ascent profile.

Altitude sickness can be mild (most common and manageable), moderate and severe which calls for immediate descent from the mountain.

Acute Mountain Sickness / Altitude Sickness Symptoms

Mild symptoms: Can be resolved by adequate hydration and rest, be sure to let your guides know once you experience any of these symptoms.

  • Headache
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping

Moderate symptoms: Typically, when the mild symptoms start getting worse

  • Throbbing headache that is not responding to medication
  • Increased nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Swelling of limbs
  • Irritability and increased fatigue

Requires descend to last elevation level that you felt well as they are signs that your body is not adapting well to the change in altitude.

Severe symptoms: Can lead to life threatening complications like High Altitude Pulmonary Endema (HAPE) and High Altitude Cerebral Endema (HACE) and requires immediate evacuation from the mountain.

  • Inability to walk as a result of loss of coordination
  • Hallucinations
  • Shortness of breath even while at rest
  • Chest congestion and wet coughing
  • Pale skin
  • Abnormal lung sounds

How to prevent altitude sickness / acute mountain sickness on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

  • Before climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, do an acclimatization hike. You can go trekking on Mt. Meru.
  • Kilimanjaro has 7 routes, so choose a route that allows for proper acclimatization. Longer routes are highly recommended especially for those with little or no experience of mountain climbing. Spend 7-8 days on your climb to the summit.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink as much water as you can while on the mountain. About 3-4 liters every day. Water helps alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness as it improves the general function of the body.
  • Move as slowly as possible. Remember reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro is not a race. You do not have to tire yourself, preserve your energy for final summit. Take your time to enjoy your surroundings and the beautiful scenery.
  • Do not consume caffeinated drinks while on the mountain, no smoking or drinking alcohol, no sleeping pills or stimulants.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with enough calories for more energy. You can snack on energy bars while on the mountain.
  • Have some medication on you for first aid in case of mild symptoms like Diamox.
  • Pay attention to any changes with your body while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and be sure to communicate with the other climbers and mainly to your guides. They will know what and how to help.

Important to note that anyone can get Altitude sickness. To reduce your chances of getting it, necessary precautions should be taken and proper training and preparations so that you can increase your chances of conquering the Kilimanjaro mountain and reach the peak, Uhuru at 5,895 meters above sea level.

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