How you can help yourself to prevent altitude sickness
As we have said already, the human body can adapt to altitude, but you have to help it. Here’s how you can:
Book with a responsible operator
Choose a responsible operator for your climb, one who does not cut costs and rush you up the mountain.
Choose an itinerary which has a rest day built into the climb. This extra day can increase your chances of success by nearly one-third!
Choose an itinerary which involves – where possible – sleeping at a lower altitude than the highpoint of the day’s climb. This is a great help to the acclimatization process.
Listen to your mountain guide
If there is only one phrase of Swahili to learn on Kilimanjaro, then it’s definitely ‘pole pole’ or ‘slowly, slowly.’ This is the only sensible pace at which to ascend, and it is crucial to your chances of reaching the summit. So, do listen to the guides’ advice: it just has to be ‘pole pole’ all the way to the top.
Focus on breathing
Breathe deeply, breathe slowly. In everyday life, we take breathing for granted, but here you should really focus on it.
Keep well hydrated, taking on at least 4 litres of fluids every day you’re on the climb. And avoid alcohol, tobacco and any drugs with a depressant effect (even sleeping tablets), as these can contribute to altitude sickness.
Keep your calorie-count high, eating well to keep energy levels up.
Be honest about your health
When your guides ask: ‘How are you feeling?’ you must be 100% honest, alerting them to any symptoms which might be evidence of altitude sickness. If your symptoms suggest that you are suffering from moderate altitude sickness, then you should halt your ascent. If they get worse, you’ll have to descend to allow recovery.
Some climbers choose to use Diamox (acetazolamide) which is taken in tablet form and can help to prevent and treat altitude sickness. Diamox is not beneficial to all climbers: it simply does not work for everyone. Its function is to allow a greater amount of oxygen into the bloodstream. It is advisable to consult your doctor at home and to try it out at home before bringing it to Tanzania and relying on it for your climb. Diamox can cause side-effects, so it is essential to know about these beforehand. Easy Travel remains neutral on Diamox, as tests have been inconclusive. As an alternative, some climbers choose ibuprofen, commonly available in many countries without prescription and usually without side effects.
How to treat altitude sickness
The first priority is to prevent climbers from getting altitude sickness, but at Easy Travel we are totally realistic: some climbers will inevitably suffer symptoms. The first such symptom is often a headache. If this is accompanied by other symptoms, then this could mean that you have altitude sickness. In severe cases, this may result in a need for medical attention.
It is very important that any symptoms are identified early, and our mountain crew members are constantly monitoring all of our climbers for the tell-tale signs of altitude sickness.. It is also vital that all climbers are 100% open and honest with the mountain crew members. Ignoring symptoms, or being less then truthful about how you feel, could be dangerous – even fatal.
The ‘treatment’ for mild cases of altitude sickness is both obvious and straightforward. Quite simply, the affected climber must be accompanied down to a lower altitude without delay. If the symptoms are more severe, then the climber will be taken down to an altitude of less than 1300 meters (4000 feet).
Different measures are required in more severe cases. If you are identified as suffering from high altitude cerebral edema (HACE), then it is possible that you will need dexamethasone, which is a steroid. If you have high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), you will need to be administered with supplemental oxygen. There is a chance that you will need medication and you will certainly need to see a doctor, maybe even having to be admitted to hospital.
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