How does High Altitude Sickness affect children?

How does High Altitude Sickness affect children?

Every year, families travel to higher elevations for work, religious trips, or fun activities like hiking or skiing.
Many parents are unaware of how changes in altitude affect their children. As a result, they are often unprepared to manage symptoms when they arise.

High altitude symptoms:

Children MAY NOT experience common symptoms such as headache, nausea, or anorexia when exposed to high altitudes.
Parents may notice changes in their children’s normal behavior. Children may not want to eat or have trouble sleeping, and they may also become angry more easily.

Nonspecific symptoms include:

● Lethargy
● Refusal of food
● Vomiting
● Excessive crying

Parents should be on the lookout for symptoms of altitude sickness because changes in their children’s routine can easily be attributed to them.
Above 8,000 feet, the oxygen level is low and the air pressure is high. If a child feels discomfort, it is possible that he has altitude sickness and parents should care for him accordingly.


Children who are at higher risk of altitude sickness

Children with these medical conditions are more likely to suffer from high altitude problems.

If a child had altitude sickness before, she is likely to get it again on another trip.

● Diseases of the nose, throat, ears, and lungs are worse at high altitudes compared to low altitudes. This observation is based on infections in the upper respiratory tract and lungs. Doctors in these areas should increase their efforts to educate parents about lung and ear infections. Parents should understand the importance of early recognition and treatment of these infections.

● Babies born with heart defects are more likely to get altitude sickness when they go to high places. Doctors should screen children for heart defects before embarking on such trips.

● Children with Down syndrome have a higher risk of developing breathing problems while they sleep, called OSA. This risk increases when they are at altitudes above 4,921 feet and they may need to go to the hospital. This risk is higher compared to children without Down syndrome and OSA. Have your child screened early for OSA and Down syndrome. Also, avoid going to high altitudes, as it can endanger your life.

● Children with diseases that compromise lung function, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia (the lungs and airways become damaged, leading to destruction of the lung’s tiny air sacs), chemical fibrosis (a genetic disease that causes thick mucus to build up and sticky on the organs), Severe scoliosis (abnormal S- or C-shaped curve of the spine) and neuromuscular diseases (disorders that affect the nerves and muscles) also have an increased risk of acute mountain sickness.

● Babies younger than six weeks and premature babies (born before 37 weeks) are more likely to get mountain sickness.

● Children with sickle cell anemia should be careful when traveling to high altitudes, as they can have seizures anywhere. A sickle cell crisis causes painful pain in parts of the body such as arms, legs, joints, back or chest. It can also cause difficulty breathing and pain when breathing.

● Asthmatic children may think their symptoms improve at higher altitudes because there are fewer allergens. However, cold air at higher altitudes can still make it difficult for them to breathe due to constriction of the airways.

We advise you to seek medical assistance or request a comprehensive evaluation from your child’s pediatrician.

Factors to be considered if you are going to a high-altitude place

Recommendations for ascent

Climbing slowly and sleeping at lower altitudes is the safest way to avoid altitude sickness in kids.

Healthy children should climb to high altitudes slowly, and only if they can quickly descend in case of issues. If children usually live below 4,920 ft, it’s best to avoid a sudden climb to sleeping altitudes above 9,186 ft. You should ascend gradually, not exceeding (1640 ft) per day.

To reduce the risk, spend a day at intermediate elevations before climbing higher.
Additionally, allocate an extra day for every 3280 ft of ascent.

The importance of being aware of high altitude risks

Parents who know about the risks and symptoms of altitude sickness can better recognize possible problems.
This education helps parents know how to respond well to any problems that may come up or prevent altitude sickness.
Parents can protect their children during high-altitude activities by staying informed and making smart choices. This awareness contributes to a safer and more enjoyable experience for both parents and children in such environments.

Virtual consultation for parents who can’t always commit to a doctor’s visit

Children recovery

How quickly a child recovers depends on the severity of their altitude sickness and the treatments they receive. For rapid relief, descend to a lower altitude. Children typically experience improvement when they descend.
If parents choose to take a break and let the body adjust, symptoms may last for a few hours or up to a 24 hour period. Typically, minor symptoms cease within a day or two as the child’s body adjusts to the altitude.

Share your experiences with us!

As a parent, has your child ever experienced altitude sickness? What reaction did you have? Did you have any previous knowledge and were able to act accordingly?

As a doctor, what other recommendations do you have for identifying or treating altitude sickness symptoms? Have any more suggestions as to what can prepare parents to act better if their child experiences this illness?

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