Altitude Sickness and Medication

At high altitude (above 3500m/11500ft) there is less oxygen to air ratio and reduced atmospheric pressure can cause the body to undergo some fairly unpleasant changes. The most common complaint at altitude is Acute Mountain Sickness or misleading. Less common are the complaints of pulmonary and cerebral edema (HAPE & HACE). AMS is the most common complaint on Mount Kilimanjaro, occurs when the body is unable to acclimatize and suffers from a lack of oxygen. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, loss of appetite,fatigue and insomnia. Most climbers suffer from a few of these symptoms, the most common being a headache and insomnia.

High Altitude Edema (HAPE & HACE)

Edema (the build up of fluid in various parts of the body) is thought to be caused by a rapid ascent to altitude without allowing the body to acclimatize. There is no known medication to either prevent or cure edema, the only preventative measure being a slow approach to altitude. There are two forms of edema that may strike at high altitude High Altitude Cerebral Edema and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema; both forms of edema are very dangerous. Descent can ‘cure’ the sufferer completely however returning to altitude causes a relapse and is not advised under any circumstances. Mountain medication (A few drugs that help AMS) Drug Type For Drug Side Effects Mild diuretic Prevent or reduce symptoms of AMS:

  • Diamox (acetazolamide) Dehydration, tingling in fingers & toes, change in taste, loss of Appetite, drowsiness. Diamox is a sulphur drug only available on prescription. Consult your physician before use.
  • Anti-diarrhea Stop/prevent diarrhea
  • Prevent Cramping
  • Pain killers Cure headaches, fever, mild pain
  • Dehydration Salts – Prevent dehydration, replace lost body fluids,
  • Nausea drugs-Prevent nausea
  • Sun block- Prevent sunburn
  • Malaria pills Prevent Malaria

*Diamox, a drug designed for glaucoma patients, seems to help prevent AMS (though there is still much medical debate as to its benefits). It is not a ‘miracle drug’ and does not ensure prevention of AMS but its help for altitude acclimatization. Diamox should be taken two days before your climb 125mg twice a day.