Altitude Sickness is a concerning health condition that might occur at high altitude locations. Typically, altitude sickness is caused while hiking and expedition. When people expose themselves to high altitude locations above 3500 meters or above, their body gets weakened and gets several symptoms, such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and fever. This situation is called Altitude Sickness.
Usually, the oxygen level depreciates at higher altitudes, directly impacting the human body. The body mechanics of human beings fail to function properly without enough access to oxygen. According to scientific terms, the air pressure drops, resulting in a dropped rate of air pressure. It leads to the dispersed rate of oxygen molecules in every breath you take.
Most of the time, trekkers and climbers feel exhausted, and their breathing is heavy and fast to contain oxygen essential for the body to perform well. When the human body does not get enough oxygen, they eventually suffer from a lag in health termed ‘Altitude Sickness.’ The common symptoms of altitude sickness include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. If the case is severe, people may experience chest tightness, difficulty breathing, confusion, and even fluid accumulation in the lungs and brain. So altitude sickness is the major concern during the treks and expeditions.
The important thing to know is that altitude sickness can affect anyone, no matter what age or fitness level people come with. But there are even more contributing factors that can cause this problem. Rapid ascent without proper acclimatization, continuous or long exposure to high altitudes, and health conditions directly influence the human body, leading to altitude-related illnesses. In addition, it is proven that people who have previously experienced altitude sickness are more likely to develop it again.
It is recommended to take a gradual ascent while climbing peaks or hiking to high-altitude destinations. You should allow your body to adjust and acclimatize to the existing altitude. This can be done via hydration, intake of nutritious foods, sufficient sleep and rest, and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and any strenuous physical activity during acclimatization. Some people even intake medications like acetazolamide and diamox to aid in acclimatization.
If you experience the symptoms of altitude sickness, immediately descend to a lower altitude and rest. It is also recommended to seek medical attention and consult a physician for help. Altitude sickness is a serious condition, so it is essential to be aware of its symptoms and plan accordingly.
Kilimanjaro and The Risk of Altitude Sickness
Mount Kilimanjaro is an easy expedition compared to the strenuous climbs of Annapurna, K2, and Everest. There are no technical cliffs and ridges that exist at this peak. Most of the time, climbers do not use the climbing gear and ropes while climbing Kilimanjaro. But what they underestimate is the altitude of this mighty peak, which is 5,895 meters.
Since Kilimanjaro is a high-altitude destination, altitude sickness is prone in this region. The height of Mount Kilimanjaro is labeled as an ‘extreme’ altitude. At the same time, K2 and Everest fall under the ‘ultra extreme’ altitude category. Reports suggest that around 75% of Kilimanjaro climbers develop AMS during their journey, which is the scary part of this journey.
Effects of Altitude Sickness on Kilimanjaro
While you climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the altitude gradually increases, pushing you to the danger zone of altitude sickness. If you suffer from this health hazard, you might get several health effects on your body. Some of them are listed below:
Headache: It is the most common symptom of altitude sickness. While climbing Kilimanjaro, you will reach over 5000 meters above sea level, and remember you will get a headache within the first 24 hours of ascending. This headache might range from mild to high – some even intense.
Dizziness and lightheadedness: While your body gets low oxygen, it is common to feel dizzy or lightheaded while hiking. And it is another common effect of altitude sickness. Climbers even lose balance, resulting in falls and other accidents. So it is essential to let your guides know about your situation and descend to lower altitudes.
Nausea and vomiting: While the human body does not get essential oxygen, it directly impacts the metabolism. It means that trekkers and climbers have a poor metabolism, resulting in nausea and vomiting.
Fatigue and weakness: While you suffer from fever, vomiting, dizziness, and headache, all at the same time, your body feels weak and tired. Even a simple uphill climb can be intense during altitude sickness.
Shortness of breath: As climbers climb Mount Kilimanjaro to over 5000 meters above sea level, the human body gets exhausted. And to retain energy human body needs excessive oxygen to perform well, but the oxygen level at high altitudes is minimal, so the problem of shortness of breath occurs.
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Types of Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness can affect anyone exposed to over 6000 feet above sea level. And there are several forms of altitude sickness depending on the intensity. Some of them are discussed below:
Mild AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness)
Mild AMS comes with several symptoms, such as nausea, headache, fatigue, and loss of appetite. But if you drink plenty of water, this can be solved without any hassle.
If you remain dehydrated for a long time, even if you are suffering from mild acute mountain sickness, the symptoms might get even worse. There might be dizziness, coughing, shortness of breath, and vomiting. Physicians suggest using headaches or anti-emetics for nausea, which can help relieve the symptoms.
Several forms of altitude sickness occur after long exposure to high altitude and not treating the mild AMS in time. Two types of severe AMS can happen while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – they are HAPE and HACE:
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)
When you expose yourself to high altitude locations such as the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, it can result in excessive pressure in lung arteries, and it can result in High Altitude Pulmonary Edema called HAPE. This pressure causes a build-up of fluid around the lungs.
Symptoms of HAPE:
- Coughing up blood or mucus
- Abnormal lung sounds
- Extreme listlessness
- Difficulty breathing
- Lips going blue
High Altitude Cerebral Edema
It is one of the most dangerous forms of altitude sickness. If you suffer from this health situation, you should immediately seek professional medical support since it can even cost a life. Dizziness causes unbalance in walking, and the concussion will be even more dangerous than you think. So trekkers need to be very aware of keeping themselves healthy and acclimatized for the Mount Kilimanjaro trek.
Symptoms of HACE
- Disorientation, confusion, hallucinations, talking nonsense
- Lack of coordination, staggering, inability to walk
- Irrational behavior
- Severe headache,
- Nausea and vomiting