Kilimanjaro Health Issues

It's prudent to mention some of the health issues that a few climbers encounter when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and when you book one of our mountain expeditions we will give you more information on first aid along with a health guide.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion
  • Rapid pulse
  • Lassitude
  • Insomnia
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Reduction of urine

Sometimes called “Altitude Sickness”, this occurs when reaching very high altitudes, for example, the peak or summit area of Mount Kilimanjaro. It can be treated quickly, by taken the person suffering down to a lower altitude, for example, often just a drop of 500 metres is enough to alleviate the symptoms. It is possible to avoid the illness by keeping a slow pace from the start, adding in an extra day to acclimatise to the high altitude and by drinking 3 to 4 litres of water daily. There is also preventative medicine available. Your doctor will be able to advise.

ADMS could also result in oedema (edema) which can cause lung problems because it stops oxygen from getting to the lungs or brain. This could cause brain tissue swelling which is very dangerous if symptoms are ignored and it is not treated immediately. It is worth noting that almost ¾ of people who climb Mount Kilimanjaro suffer from AMS, whether mildly or with greater severity. It is therefore important to understand this condition, its symptoms and take care to avoid it.

Hypothermia

Symptoms

  • Shivering (if it is severe, shivering stops)
  • Slurring of speech
  • Clumsy actions
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue

This is when the body’s temperature drops significantly and it can be avoided with care. You must bring the right clothing and equipment with you to avoid hypothermia. You should prevent any of your clothing getting wet, either from perspiration or from rain. Layering clothing is a very good idea. Treating hypothermia is not difficult and someone suffering with it should be moved to a sheltered area, all clothing removed and they should get into three sleeping bags for warmth with another person to help raise body temperature.

Sunburn

Symptoms

  • Redness of skin
  • Blistering
  • Skin pain
  • Swelling of skin
  • Headaches
  • Shivering
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Extreme thirst

Even when the weather is cloudy and cold, the sun penetrates the cloud and can cause sunburn. The sun is far more powerful at great heights as less ultraviolet light is filtered and if skin is not sufficiently protected, could result in very dangerous sunburn. Always use a high factor sunblock (30+) at low altitude and total block above altitude of 3000 metres. Protect your eyes with dark glasses (choose a pair with side panels). Sunburn also dehydrates so drinking lots of water is essential. Additionally, snow blindness is another threat when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Sufferers must bandage their eyes for a minimum of 24 hours.

Foot Problems

It’s very important to wear suitable footwear. Ill-fitting boots or boots that have not been worn in will damage feet, resulting in pain and blistering. You should also make sure your toenails are cut short so they don’t rub or catch on your socks. If you develop a blister, treat it with suitable plaster or zinc oxide tape.

Fitness

It is not advisable to climb Mount Kilimanjaro unless you are physically fit so if you suffer with cardiac problems or lung problems you should consult your physician first.

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