Acute Mountain Sickness
Also less commonly known as Acute Mountain Sickness (‘AMS’), this is commonly misunderstood as being a ‘lack of oxygen’ experienced at altitude. In fact, AMS is caused by a lack of air pressure at altitude, which means that each breath you take results in an intake of less air – and, of course, oxygen – which is essential to the function of all the body’s organs. Whether or not you understand the causes of AMS or not, the important thing is to recognize the symptoms and realize that AMS can be dangerous and potentially fatal. Happily, although most Kilimanjaro climbers experience a level of discomfort caused by the effects of altitude, for many this will be fairly mild and can be addressed through rest and if necessary, descent. AMS is not a disease or illness, simply the result of the body not adapting quickly enough to the changing conditions produced by the increase in altitude.
Given a bit of time, the body can usually adapt and the ascent of the mountain can continue.
AMS in its least severe form will show itself as a headache, often a very bad headache but one which can be treated in many cases with a normal headache remedy (so, include these in your first aid kit). If the headache does not diminish, or if the sufferer also experiences vomiting and complete breathlessness during periods of inactivity, this can mean that the AMS has ‘progressed’ to something more severe, demanding that the sufferer
Rest until a complete recovery has taken place. (Unfortunately, it is not possible to alter the schedule once you are on the mountain, so if you feel you might want an extra day to acclimatize, then you will have to ask for this at the time you organize your trip. Additionally, should it be necessary for one of our guests to descend due to AMS, and then they will be responsible for any costs of the transfer back to the hotel and extra hotel nights. We cannot refund anything for nights missed on the mountain.)
Further symptoms can mean that AMS in its most severe form is being experienced and that an immediate descent is required. Symptoms to look out for are a decrease in mental ability, difficulties with staying awake, balance, co-ordination or speech. Greatly increased heartbeat, blueness in the face, persistent coughing or noises in the lungs can also indicate
The possibility of suffering from AMS can always be reduced by taking longer over your trek and thus giving the body more time to adapt to the increase in altitude and consequent decrease in air pressure/air intake. You can also help reduce the chances of AMS by walking slowly, keeping hydrated and eating properly during your climb. The golden rule with AMS is to immediately keep your mountain guide fully informed of any symptoms experienced, and their development.
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