Other Kilimanjaro health problems and common ailments
Kilimanjaro health problems

The following are the more common health concerns that occur on Kilimanjaro. Majority of individuals come out of their mountain experience without encountering any of these issues, except for some sleep deprivation. Blisters, naturally, are another common complaint. Taking simple precautions can prevent the common health problems associated with African climbing expeditions on Kilimanjaro. Rapid changes in humidity and temperature can lead to coughs and colds, along with flu-like symptoms from inhaling cold air at high altitudes. Discomfort can be eased by taking aspirin, gargling with warm salt water, and using anesthetic or menthol throat lozenges. Hydration is also important. Tranquil Kilimanjaro advises informing your guide about these problems as they can easily be mistaken for the onset of altitude sickness. Phlegm, green or pinkish mucus, or chest pain could indicate bronchitis requiring antibiotics, or pneumonia or HAPE necessitating immediate evacuation. Inadequate clothing puts you at risk of exposure, whether it be from sunstroke or hypothermia. In relatively mild conditions, exhaustion, dehydration, and insufficient food intake can exacerbate these risks. Even porters are at risk of frostbite on icy slopes. It is crucial to make sure that everyone is dressed warmly, with warm hats, thick gloves and socks, and that facial skin is either covered or insulated with Vaseline in freezing conditions, especially in high winds, or protected from sunburn with screening lotion. Minor frost nip can be relieved by tucking affected fingers into warm armpits, while more severe numb, white patches necessitate painful thawing in warm water once shelter is reached. Snow blindness can be treated with aspirin, eye drops, and rest in a dark place. Once shivering begins due to exposure, your pulse slows down and you will rapidly lose body heat, leading to poor coordination, hallucinations, and collapse. Immediate warmth is essential. Finding shelter, using a sleeping bag with hot water bottles, and preferably sharing body heat with another person is the standard treatment to restore the will to recover. Your guide is the most knowledgeable person to determine the cause of your distress, whether it is hypothermia, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), or loneliness, and will devise the best plan for your well-being. Remember to bring any medication you are currently taking for existing conditions such as hemorrhoids, thrush, cystitis, etc., as these can flare up under the harsh conditions of a challenging Mount Kilimanjaro trek. Herbal remedies like Ginkgo Biloba have been found to be helpful at high altitudes during strenuous African wilderness vacations. Taking care of your feet should start with breaking in sturdy, supportive climbing boots before embarking on your Tanzanian hiking tour of Mount Kilimanjaro. Keep your feet and socks clean, warm, and dry. Treat blisters immediately by draining them with a sterilized needle and protecting them with a dressing that resembles skin. Continuous trekking uphill or downhill can cause strain on the knees and ankles. Elastic surgical supports or bandages are beneficial for older or problematic joints, while trekking poles help distribute weight evenly. It is recommended to practice hill walking in advance with bent knees and sideways foot placement, especially when descending, to avoid the risk of strains and sprains. Coughs are also not uncommon due to the dry, dusty atmosphere at high altitudes. However, the majority of people successfully complete their Kilimanjaro journey with their health intact.

Coughs and colds

Coughs and colds are widespread health issues that occur frequently on Kilimanjaro. When dealing with a cold, taking aspirin can be beneficial. For a sore throat, lozenges with anesthetics and gargling warm salty water offer relief. Staying hydrated is also recommended. When a cough produces mucus, it can stem from various causes. The most likely culprits are the common cold or irritation of the bronchi caused by cold air, which can mimic flu-like symptoms. Nonetheless, it could also be a sign of altitude sickness. If the cough produces thick green or yellow mucus, it may indicate bronchitis. Additionally, if there is chest pain (especially when exhaling), a high fever, and mucus with traces of blood, these could be signs of pneumonia, which would require antibiotics. In such cases, it is advisable to consult a doctor.

Exposure on Kilimanjaro

Also referred to as hypothermia, this condition occurs on Kilimanjaro due to a combination of factors such as fatigue, high altitude, dehydration, insufficient food intake, and inadequate warm clothing. It is important to note that exposure can happen even in moderately cold conditions. It is essential to ensure that everyone, including your porters, is adequately equipped to combat these risks.

Symptoms of exposure on Kilimanjaro

The symptoms of this condition include a body temperature below 34.5ºC or 94ºF, decreased coordination, extreme fatigue, and uncontrollable shivering. As the condition worsens, the shivering stops and the patient experiences even more severe coordination issues, making it difficult to walk. In addition, the patient may begin to have hallucinations. Eventually, the pulse slows down and the patient loses consciousness, leading to death shortly after. Effective treatment involves quickly and thoroughly warming the patient. It is important to seek shelter immediately. Remove the patient’s clothes and place them inside a sleeping bag along with hot water bottles (you can use your own bottles). It is recommended that someone else also removes their clothes and gets into the sleeping bag with the patient, as the warmth from human bodies can speed up the recovery process.

Frostbite on Kilimanjaro

Severe frostbite, which can result in the loss of fingers and toes, is not a common occurrence among trekkers on Kilimanjaro. However, it is possible to be affected if you happen to get stuck or lost during extremely harsh weather conditions. To prevent this, it is important to ensure that all members of your group are properly equipped with thick socks, boots, gloves, and warm hats. The initial stage of frostbite is referred to as ‘frostnip’. During this stage, the affected fingers or toes become cold and painful, eventually becoming numb and turning white. To alleviate this, it is recommended to warm them up by placing them in a warm area of the body, such as the armpit, until the natural color returns. In cases of severe frostbite, the affected area of the body becomes frozen and it is crucial not to attempt to warm it up until reaching a lodge or camp. The recommended treatment involves immersing the affected area in warm water with a temperature of around 40ºC or 100ºF. Following this, medical assistance should be sought for further treatment.

Stomach problems on Kilimanjaro

The hygiene practices of the mountain crews have greatly improved in recent times. This is especially evident in light of the COVID situation, as there are now bottles of antibacterial handwash available for trekkers on every journey. However, despite these advancements, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation are still prevalent health issues on Kilimanjaro. It is important to note that diarrhea is often contracted before climbers even begin their ascent up the mountain. Unfortunately, the symptoms only become apparent once you are on Kili, leading to a painful and exhausting experience, particularly if you are frequently visiting the toilet throughout the night. Maintaining proper hand hygiene is crucial in minimizing the likelihood of contracting a bug. It is equally important for your fellow trekkers and the crew to follow hygiene protocols. It is also advisable to bring a rehydration treatment such as Dioralyte, as it helps replenish lost salts and minerals. Another commonly used medication for stomach issues is loperamide, commonly known as Imodium. This medication helps reduce the symptoms of diarrhea, alleviating the need for frequent trips to the toilet. However, it is essential to understand that loperamide is not a cure, but rather provides relief from discomfort. Furthermore, it is not recommended if there is blood or mucus in the stools.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a prevalent issue among climbers on Kilimanjaro. Even individuals who typically sleep well in tents may experience a complete lack of sleep during the nighttime ascent towards the summit. To combat this, using earplugs and an eye mask can help block out noise and light from the campsite. Additionally, ensuring that you are adequately warm in your sleeping bag is essential. It may be beneficial to test your sleeping bag before arriving in Tanzania and wearing the clothes you plan to wear at night inside the bag, providing a sense of familiarity during the actual climb.

Whatever you do, stay away from the sleeping pills. These substances have a negative impact on your ability to breathe properly, which is highly undesirable when you are in the mountainous region.

Gynaecological problems

If you have previously experienced a vaginal infection, it is advisable to bring a course of treatment with you in case it resurfaces.


If you have experienced these conditions in the past, it is advisable to carry the necessary medications with you while trekking up Kilimanjaro. Haemorrhoids have the potential to worsen during the journey, especially if you encounter constipation..


Despite the diminishing snows on Kilimanjaro, it is highly recommended that you wear sunglasses while walking on the summit. This is especially important if you plan to spend a significant amount of time there. Wearing sunglasses will help prevent the uncomfortable but temporary condition known as snow-blindness. It’s also important to ensure that everyone in your group, including the porters, has eye protection. In the event that you lose your sunglasses, using a piece of cardboard with two narrow slits, just wide enough to see through, can serve as a temporary solution to protect your eyes. However, if snow-blindness occurs, it is advised to keep your eyes closed and lie down in a dark room. Eye-drops and aspirin may provide some relief in this situation.


To prevent sunburn while climbing Kilimanjaro, it is advisable to don a hat, sunglasses, and a shirt featuring a collar that can be flipped upwards. Additionally, when at higher altitudes, it is crucial to apply sunscreen specifically meant for the face.

Care of feet, ankles and knees on Kilimanjaro

Concerns regarding your knees, ankles, and feet are a cause for concern, as they have the potential to impede your progress to the summit. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to ensure their well-being during the ascent. Fortunately, the gradual pace of the climb reduces the likelihood of twisting or injuring your legs and feet along the way. Nevertheless, a sprained ankle, swollen knee, or infected blister on your foot could easily mar your journey up Kilimanjaro. Hence, it is crucial to take precautions to avoid such circumstances. Choose comfortable boots that provide adequate support for your ankles. Refrain from burdening yourself with excessive weight. Make a point to keep your feet clean and change your socks regularly. During breaks for lunch, remove your boots and socks, allowing them to dry in the warm sunlight. Promptly tend to any blister that begins to form, in order to address the issue before it worsens.

Blisters on Kilimanjaro

There are various methods to address blisters, but when climbing Kilimanjaro, it is more effective to prevent them rather than seeking a cure. Therefore, as soon as you sense a “hot spot” developing, it is crucial to immediately stop and shield it with a blister plaster like Compeed. Another hiker proposes using the inner membrane of an eggshell as an alternative substitute for Second Skin. In the event that a blister does appear, you have the option to puncture it with a sterilized needle that has been heated in a flame, and then apply a dressing. Alternatively, you can construct a protective moleskin dressing around the intact blister.


To minimize the chances of getting a sprained ankle while climbing Kilimanjaro, it is advisable to wear sturdy boots that provide ample support. Additionally, it is important to be mindful of your footing while walking. In the event that you do sprain your ankle, it is recommended to soothe it by immersing it in a stream and securely bandaging it. Should the pain become severe, it may be necessary to abort your trek and make your way back to your hotel. Taking aspirin can be beneficial in alleviating both pain and swelling.

Knee problems

This phenomenon is frequently observed after extended periods of walking downhill, such as the extensive decline from the peak of Kilimanjaro. It is crucial to avoid taking large steps while descending, as smaller strides can mitigate the impact on the knee joint. Additionally, individuals who have previously experienced knee issues may find it beneficial to wear knee supports and utilize walking poles during lengthy descents.


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