Debunking the popular Myths About Altitude
Altitude myths

High-altitude mountains like Mount Kilimanjaro, Everest, K2 and the like always attract countless numbers of myths. One of the popular myths for example is that individuals with good physical fitness are immune to AMS. Physical fitness does not guarantee immunity to AMS. Even the fittest individuals can experience symptoms of AMS if they ascend too quickly without allowing their bodies to adapt to the altitude. Proper acclimatization, regardless of fitness level, is crucial for minimizing the risk of AMS. When it comes to participating in high-altitude trekking, it is common to receive a plethora of suggestions on how to handle potential acute mountain sickness (AMS) and the change in elevation. However, it is important to note that many of the ideas surrounding the most effective methods of acclimating to reduced oxygen levels are actually not based on factual information. In this article, we will debunk seven popular misconceptions regarding how to manage altitude-related challenges.


Staying hydrated is crucial during a Kilimanjaro trek due to the sunny and dry climate on the mountain. To prevent dehydration, we recommend our clients to drink four to five liters of water each day. However, it is important to note that while many believe drinking extra water can prevent altitude sickness, research suggests otherwise. Despite this, there are numerous anecdotal accounts of individuals feeling better at higher altitudes after drinking water, leading to the belief that it aids in acclimatization. One possibility is that these individuals may actually be experiencing symptoms of dehydration, which can be mistaken for altitude sickness. Regardless of the exact reason, we always emphasize the importance of staying hydrated. However, it is essential to understand that consuming a large quantity of water does not guarantee protection against altitude sickness.

See Why is Drinking Water So Important on Kilimanjaro?


Caffeine’s reputation as a diuretic is widely recognized. The common belief is that consuming caffeine leads to increased urine output, which in turn results in dehydration. And what do we know about hydration or the lack thereof? As previously mentioned (hint: dehydration is thought to impede acclimatization). However, research has contradicted these notions. One study demonstrated that caffeine did not appear to have a significant impact on urine production. Another study revealed that in order for caffeine to have a notable diuretic effect, one would need to consume more than 500 mg per day – equivalent to approximately 1.2 liters of brewed coffee! Consequently, it appears that consuming caffeine in moderate amounts would not raise the risk of dehydration or altitude sickness. Additionally, it may even be plausible that caffeine aids acclimatization by increasing the respiratory rate and subsequently enhancing oxygen intake.

See Is Coffee Bad for You to Drink When Climbing Kilimanjaro? 


Fit individuals are commonly assumed to perform better in various physical activities compared to those who are unfit. However, it is worth noting that even exceptional athletes like Martina Navratilova, a highly accomplished female tennis player, and Robbie Savage, a former soccer player, were unsuccessful in their respective attempts to conquer Kilimanjaro due to altitude sickness. This showcases that physical fitness does not necessarily guarantee immunity against this condition. Interestingly, altitude sickness often affects a specific demographic the most – young, physically fit, athletic males. This serves as compelling evidence that being in good shape may actually contribute to the development of altitude sickness. The reason behind this is that individuals who are physically fit are capable of hiking at a rapid pace, often surpassing their body’s ability to acclimate to the high altitude. The most effective way to prevent altitude sickness is to gradually ascend to higher elevations, allowing the body to slowly adapt to the reduced oxygen levels. Our experienced guides maintain a comfortable and leisurely pace during the climb, giving your body ample opportunity to adjust to the thin air environment. Even if you feel that we are progressing too slowly, it is essential for your overall well-being in the long term.

See Can an Unfit Person Climb Mount Kilimanjaro?


Although having previous experience at high altitudes is important, it does not provide a definitive answer. Several factors, including genetics, overall health, fitness level, and medical conditions, influence your ability to acclimatize. Situational factors such as how quickly you ascend, your hydration level, hiking pace, physical exertion, nutrition, and sleep also play a role in the onset of acute mountain sickness (AMS). While a history of altitude sickness increases the likelihood of experiencing it again, not having experienced it on a previous trip does not guarantee immunity on future trips. It is crucial to avoid complacency and remember that prior absence of altitude sickness does not guarantee protection.


Altitude sickness affects every individual, regardless of their physical condition. It should be anticipated that one will encounter mild acute mountain sickness symptoms during their ascent. These symptoms may include headaches, queasiness, breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, loss of appetite, and additional discomfort. It is important to note that these symptoms are considered typical and usually alleviate on their own after a few hours of staying in one place. However, if the symptoms worsen to a moderate or severe level, it is crucial to cease further climbing. Some individuals believe they can persist and continue their ascent despite experiencing severe symptoms. Nonetheless, this mindset is a misstep. When we come across personal narratives on blogs where the author describes disregarding serious AMS symptoms and continuing to climb, it evokes a sense of disapproval. Encouraging or glorifying such actions should be avoided, as they are the very actions that can lead to fatalities on Mount Kilimanjaro. It is important to understand that altitude sickness is a physical ailment rather than a mental challenge. The most effective treatment for altitude sickness is immediate descent. It cannot be overcome solely through willpower or positive thinking.


There is a wide range of products available in the market that claim to imitate the effects of training at high altitudes. These specific masks work by restricting your breathing, thereby making it more difficult to inhale oxygen. The claimed advantage of using an altitude training mask is that it can improve your VO2 max, which measures cardiovascular fitness. However, scientific research has proven that these masks do not assist with acclimatization. The problem lies in the fact that limiting air intake with a physical barrier is not the same as inhaling thinner air. As a result, these masks are unable to replicate the type of oxygen deprivation experienced at higher altitudes, leading to a lack of adaptations that would aid in the acclimatization process. If you wish to enjoy the benefits of high altitude training without actually being in a elevated location, you may want to consider using an altitude tent. This training system allows climbers to adjust to high altitudes in the comfort of their own homes before embarking on their mountainous expeditions.

See Can Training with an Altitude Mask Help Me Climb Kilimanjaro?


Acetazolamide, commonly known as Diamox, is the most popular medication used to combat altitude sickness. Contrary to some beliefs, Diamox goes beyond merely concealing the symptoms and actually addresses the root cause. Acting as a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor, it stimulates the elimination of bicarbonate, a chemical naturally found in the body. Consequently, the levels of bicarbonate decrease, leading to an increase in blood acidity. As a response, your breathing rate escalates, allowing for a greater intake of oxygen. In essence, Diamox promotes ventilation, serving as a means to prevent or treat altitude sickness. Instead of masking the symptoms, it bolsters the body’s adaptation process. It is vital to note that Diamox has gained the approval of the FDA as a reliable medication for both preventing and treating altitude sickness.

MYTH #8 – Taking medication before the trek is necessary.

Some individuals believe that taking medication such as Diamox before the trek can prevent or reduce the risk of AMS. However, medication should never be used as a substitute for proper acclimatization. It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in high altitude medicine before taking any medication.

Myth #9 – Consuming alcohol helps with acclimatization.

Drinking alcohol actually hinders the acclimatization process and increases the risk of AMS. Alcohol dehydrates the body and impairs judgment, making it more difficult to recognize and respond to altitude-related symptoms. It is best to avoid alcohol altogether while at high altitudes.

Myth #10 – Chewing coca leaves or drinking mate tea prevents AMS.

While coca leaves and mate tea are traditional remedies used in some high altitude regions, there is limited scientific evidence to support their effectiveness in preventing AMS. It is important to rely on proven acclimatization methods such as gradual ascent, proper hydration, and listening to your body’s signals.

Myth #11 –  Taking deep breaths increases oxygen intake.

Taking deep breaths may seem like a logical way to increase oxygen intake, but it is not an effective method for acclimatization. The body regulates its breathing to maintain the appropriate oxygen levels, and forcefully breathing can actually disrupt this balance. Instead, focus on steady and relaxed breathing.

Myth #12 – Using supplemental oxygen at all times is beneficial.

While supplemental oxygen can provide immediate relief from AMS symptoms, relying on it continuously can hinder the body’s natural acclimatization process. It is recommended to only use supplemental oxygen when necessary, such as during severe AMS episodes or emergencies, and to prioritize proper acclimatization strategies.


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