What are the signs of altitude sickness?

The climb up Kilimanjaro should always be taken seriously because of the risk of altitude sickness in all its forms: Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) with it’s more serious variants of High

Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) and High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE).

Because there is less oxygen in the air at altitudes over 8000 feet, your body can’t take in as much oxygen as it needs, which can result in AMS. The symptoms of mild AMS can vary between individuals, with symptoms that include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms are usually worse at night. Although the symptoms are easily treatable with rest and hydration, ibuprofen or paracetamol for a headache and promethazine for nausea, the best way to prevent AMS is to acclimatise slowly.
HACE is the swelling of the brain caused by a lack of oxygen, and can develop over a very few hours. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of co-ordination
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

HAPE is a build up of fluid in the lungs. Symptoms of HAPE include:

  • Cyanosis (a blue tinge to the skin)
  • Breathing difficulties, even at rest
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest
  • A persistent cough, producing pink or white frothy sputum
  • Tiredness and weakness

The symptoms of HAPE can start to appear a few days after arrival at high altitude. Both HAPE and HACE can be fatal if not treated immediately.