Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
- headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea
- shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat on exertion
- insomnia or restless sleep
- onset at 8000 feet above sea level or higher
- onset within 6 to 8 hours of arrival at higher altitude.
Altitude sickness is caused by the lower amount of oxygen in
the air at higher altitudes. Many people travel to
mountainous areas to hike or ski. Symptoms occur in 50% of
nonacclimated people who go abruptly from sea level to
10,000 feet above sea level. The likelihood of symptoms
increases as the altitude gets higher.
Most people with acute mountain sickness (the most common
type of altitude sickness) feel normal in 2 or 3 days. If
someone overexerts himself and climbs 10,000 feet above sea
level, it is possible to develop life-threatening
complications such as pulmonary edema (lung failure) or
cerebral edema (swelling of the brain).
- First aid for severe symptoms
Quickly take your child to a lower altitude. Descend at
least 2000 feet, and always go below 10,000 feet
elevation. If your child cannot walk, carry him or her
in a sitting position. Give the child oxygen as soon as
it becomes available.
- Rest for mild symptoms
Symptoms usually respond to 2 or 3 days of rest, fluids,
and a light diet. Acetaminophen can be given for the
headache (aspirin may make it worse). The dizziness and
headache can usually be improved by deliberately
breathing more slowly. Skiing, hiking, or any other
type of exercise should be postponed. Once your child
feels healthy again, activity should be resumed
gradually. Breathing from an oxygen tank can improve
symptoms temporarily but is generally unnecessary when
the symptoms are not severe.
- Try to stage your mountain visit. Spend a few days
at 5000 to 7000 feet before journeying to the high
- Take it easy on the day of arrival. Some exercise
(like short walks) is important, but take rest
breaks. Gradually increase the amount of exertion
during the second and third days.
- Avoid dehydration by drinking a lot of fluids.
- While mountain climbing, gain only 1000 feet per day.
- If your child has experienced severe altitude
sickness before, talk to your physician about taking
Diamox tablets (a prescription medicine) for
prevention in the future.
CALL YOUR CHILD'S PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY IF:
- Your child becomes confused.
- Breathing becomes labored or fast.
- A headache becomes severe.
- Vomiting has occurred three or more times.
- Your child starts acting very sick.
CALL YOUR CHILD'S PHYSICIAN DURING OFFICE HOURS IF:
- The symptoms last more than 3 days.
- You have other questions or concerns.