Every year, approximately 30,000 people attempt a Mount Kilimanjaro trek. Of these, an estimated 20-30 deaths occur while over 1,000 are evacuated from the mountain. These deaths and injuries are due to health issues most commonly associated with altitude sickness and climatization complications.
There are also other serious health issues that should be considered in order to prevent and combat them should they arise. While climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is probably one of the most exciting things you will ever do, safety assurances should be made to reduce your risk of injury.
Common Health Issues on a Kilimanjaro Trek
Some of the most common health issues experienced during a Kilimanjaro trek include:
Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
What you need to know: The most common and possibly the most dangerous of all negative health risks experienced while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness or AMS. AMS occurs at very high altitudes. When it comes to a Kilimanjaro trek, AMS may become prevalent around Stella point and the summit. In fact, around 80% of all climbers suffer from AMS at some point during their Kilimanjaro trek.
Symptoms: The symptoms of AMS can include a rapid pulse and heartbeat, difficulty urinating, mild to extreme nausea, headache, reduced appetite and sometimes swelling of the extremities such as feet and/or hands. Extreme cases can include edema. This is a result of fluid buildup which affects the lungs and possibly the brain, causing swelling. While some cases may only be mild, AMS can be very serious and lead to extreme symptoms or even death.
How to combat it: If you are affected by AMS, the first thing you should do is descend by approximately 600-650 meters from where you are when you begin feeling the symptoms.
Preventative measures include keeping a moderate to slow pace for the first day, increasing your food and water consumption (3-4 liters per day) and include hot drinks to keep your internal temperature stabilized. You can also take preventative medicines such as Diamox and make sure oxygen is available should you need an oxygen kit for emergency situations.
What you need to know: The weather during your Kilimanjaro trek varies wildly depending on the altitude and time of day. Hypothermia is a serious result of wet days and cold nights. As you climb in altitude your risk also rises of hypothermia. If your clothes are wet from rainfall and humidity and the temperature drops your body may have trouble regulating your internal body temperature and if it drops too low the result is hypothermia.
Symptoms: The symptoms of hypothermia are confusion or memory loss, shivering (which may cease), slurred speech, exhaustion and shallow breathing. Shivering is a good sign that the body is attempting to regulate its body temperature on its own, however if the body temperature does not rise and the individual stops shivering, steps must be immediately taken to restore normal body temperature.
How to combat it: The first step is to remove wet clothes. Depending on the severity, another individual may need to remove their clothes and press their skin against the sufferers in a sleeping bag until the sufferer’s body heat is restored. In any case, once hypothermia is experienced decending should be a priority. This is because once heat is needed such as body heat or a fire, acclimation to the weather of Mount Kilimanjaro will be much more difficult and should not be attempted.
Sun Related Injuries
What you need to know: Approximately 55% of the earth’s protective atmosphere is below 5,000 meters. This means that above this altitude, you are at a far greater risk for severe sunburn. You are also at an elevated risk of experiencing photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis, also known as snow blindness.
The symptoms: The symptoms for severe sun burn can range from burning skin to blistering. The symptoms of snow blindness are the feeling that something gritty is in the eyes, burning eyes, extreme pain, extreme redness, swelling of the eyes/eye lids and vision loss.
How to combat it: Combating sunburn can be done through wearing a minimum of a 20 SPF sunblock under 4,000 meters and a 50 SPF or higher for 5,000 meters and above.
To combat snow blindness, you should wear dark, protective sunglasses with side panels during the daytime and at 4,000 meters and at all times when walking through the snow and/or ice.
Any Mount Kilimanjaro trek requires that you take certain precautions to avoid common health issues associated with climbing and trekking the mountain. Be sure that you are in the proper physical condition prior to your trip. Vacation 2 Africa have been leading Kilimanjaro tours for decades and can ensure that your Kilimanjaro trek is both memorable and safe.