You’ve planned your trip of a lifetime – a climbing vacation to Mount Kilimanjaro! But before you go, think ahead about how to look after your health while on vacation, as this is the tallest mountain in Africa. Knowing about some simple ways to prevent altitude sickness can help your body adjust so you can truly enjoy your trip. Although it is not possible to accurately predict how every individual will react to a significant change in altitude, a few steps can help a traveler avoid the problems, discomforts, and dangers of altitude sickness.
Why high altitude can affect the body
A higher altitude means that the air contains less oxygen; therefore, the body needs to work harder to adjust to this change. If you don’t take enough time to acclimate, you may experience symptoms of altitude sickness, which can range from mild symptoms such as headaches and nausea, to more serious symptoms of vomiting, confusion. Most serious of all are conditions involving fluid building up in the lungs or brain, which can result in a coma, or even lead to death. These extremely serious stages of altitude sickness are called high altitude cerebral oedema (HACE) and high altitude pulmonary oedema (HAPE).
Steps to take before you trip to avoid altitude sickness
It is always a good idea to visit a doctor before heading out on a vacation to a place like Mount Kilimanjaro. Some medications are available for help with the prevention and treatment of altitude sickness. Discuss your concerns about altitude sickness with your doctor, review any preexisting medical conditions, and of course, heed their suggestions.
How to avoid altitude sickness during your vacation
It is best to ascend gradually, allowing the body to acclimate to a higher altitude. The first 48 hours are especially vital for the body to adjust to this change. Altitude sickness and its symptoms are commonly felt around 8,000 feet (2,500 meters), so a few of days spent at this height is recommended prior to ascending further. Rest and hydration are important to help the body adapt to the change in oxygen levels. This means not planning a lot of activities and avoiding over-exertion.
Avoiding alcohol during ascent and while adjusting to the new altitude is recommended, as consuming alcohol may also affect the body’s reaction and ability to adapt.
Never ignore symptoms of altitude sickness, and do not ascend to a higher altitude, even if the symptoms appear minor. The symptoms are your body’s way of telling you that you need to rest and address those symptoms, not to exert it even more at a higher elevation.
What to do if you experience symptoms of altitude sickness
If symptoms are worsening at the same altitude, then the best course of action is to descend (at least 1,600 feet/500 meters or to the last elevation at which you felt well). If symptoms do not subside, seek medical attention. Medical professionals can assess the patient and symptoms of altitude sickness, testing for severity and prescribing or administering appropriate medications and treatment. Common treatment for altitude sickness may include oxygen while the patient rests, and medication as recommended by a physician.
Altitude sickness can be serious, but if you are aware of possible symptoms, prevention methods, and are in tune with your body’s need to rest, your vacation to Mount Kilimanjaro will be much safer and enjoyable.