Healthy and Medication on Kilimanjaro

According to Hans Meyer, the Chagga treated their cuts and scars with the liberal application of cow dung. We advise you don’t; instead take a medical kit with you onto the mountain – as few agencies, at least at the budget end, will have one. In theory many of the mountain huts have first-aid kits, but take one anyway just to be on the safe side, for you never know what they’ll have, how old it will be or how far you’ll be from the nearest station when you need help.

A medical kit for Kilimanjaro

A medical kit to take with you up Kilimanjaro should include the following:

  • Antiseptic cream for small cuts and grazes.
  • Plasters Ditto.
  • Bandages Useful for twists and sprains as well as for larger flesh wounds.
  • Compeeed for blisters.
  • Elastic knee supports for steeper gradients, particularly if you have knee problems.
  • Anti-malarials Though you’re highly unlikely to catch malaria on the mountain (you’ll be above the anopheles mosquito’s maximum altitude for nearly all the trek), if you’re on a course of anti-malarials you should continue taking them.
  • Ibuprofen/Aspirin/Paracetamol Or other painkillers, though do read the discussion on AMS in this website and the medical indications in the packet before scoffing these.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate the active ingredient in Pepto-bismol, which could be useful for settling upset stomachs.
  • Imodium Stops you going when you don’t want to go, which could come in handy.
  • Insect repellent Useful on the first and last day, though above the tree-line the climate is too cold for most insects to survive.
  • Rehydrating powders Such as Diarolyte. Usually prescribed to people suffering from diarrhoea but useful after a hot day’s trekking as well.
  • Lip salve or chapstick/vaseline Useful for that nighttime haul to the summit, where the wind will rip the skin from your lips.
  • Throat pastilles Useful, as the dry, dusty air causes many a sore throat.
  • Any current medication you are on Bring with you all your needles, pills, lotions, potions and pungent unguents.
  • Diamox Diamox is the brand name for Acetazolamide, the drug that fights AMS and which many people use prophylactically on Kilimanjaro. To help you decide whether you want to bring some of these with you, visit our Diamox webpage.
  • Sterile needles if you are having an injection in Tanzania, insist that the doctor uses your new needles. Carry everything in a waterproof bag or case, and keep at least the emergency stuff in your daypack – where hopefully it will lie undisturbed for the trek’s duration.

Carry everything in a waterproof bag or case, and keep at least the emergency stuff in your daypack – where hopefully it will lie undisturbed for the trek’s duration.

What is Diamox?

Acetazolamide (traded under the brand name Diamox) is the wonder drug that fights AMS, and the first treatment doctors give to somebody suffering from mountain sickness. Indeed, many travellers use it as a prophylactic, taking it during the trek up Kilimanjaro to prevent AMS.

How does Diamox work?

Diamox works by acidifying the blood, which stimulates breathing, allowing a greater amount of oxygen to enter into the bloodstream. Always consult with your doctor before taking Diamox to discuss the risks and benefits. If you do take it, remember to try it out first back at home to check for allergic reaction, as Diamox is a sulfa derivative, and some people do suffer from side effects, particularly a strange tingling sensation in their hands and feet.

What are the disadvantages of taking Diamox on Kilimanjaro?

The disadvantage with taking AMS prophylactically, at least according to one doctor serving on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, is that you are using up one possible cure. That is to say, should you begin to suffer from AMS despite taking Diamox, doctors are going to have to look for another form of treatment to ensure your survival. For this reason, a number of trekkers are now busy buying the drug and taking it up the mountain with them, but are using it only as a last resort when symptoms are persistent. If you are unfamiliar with Diamox and uncertain about the effect it could have on you, this is perhaps the best option.

Further information on Diamox

For a more detailed, scientific examination of Diamox, visit the need a doctor link for a description of the drug and its effects.

Note that some doctors do not prescribe Diamox for altitude sickness as it is not licensed for this. If you are determined to get your hands on some and your doctor won’t oblige you can try to secure some online with internet doctors such as Doctor Fox. The Nomad store chain also seems to be ready to sell them to their customers. Note that you will still need to visit your GP to find out whether he thinks you are OK to take them – which makes you wonder why he won’t prescribe them to you (or why, if he won’t, you feel you should still go ahead and get some!) Note, too, that we have not tested their service – nor their drugs – and do not accept any responsibility should you be unhappy with them for any reason.