Altitude Or Mountain Sickness
The main symptoms of altitude or mountain sickness are headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. With exertion, the child also develops shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. At night, insomnia or restless sleep are common. These symptoms begin within 6 to 8 hours of arrival at elevations over 8000 feet. Altitude sickness is caused by the lower amount of oxygen available in the air at higher altitudes. The likelihood of symptoms increases with the altitude and exertion. Symptoms occur in 50 percent of nonacclimated people who go abruptly from sea level to 10,000 feet.
If you're certain your child has mountain sickness, here's what you can do.
- First: Most symptoms respond to rest, extra fluids, and a light diet. Postpone skiing, hiking, or any other type of strenuous exercise. Once your child feels healthy again, increase activity gradually.
- Second: Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the headache. Avoid aspirin which could make it worse.
- Third: The dizziness and headache can usually be improved if one deliberately attempts to breathe more deeply and at a faster rate. Most people with ordinary mountain sickness feel normal in 2 or 3 days.
- Fourth: The best approach to altitude sickness is prevention.Try to stage your mountain visit. Spend a few days at 5,000 to 7,000 feet before journeying to the high country. 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 days 2 and 3. Avoid dehydration by drinking ample fluids.
- Finally: If your child has experienced severe altitude sickness before, talk to your healthcare provider about using Diamox tablets (a prescription medicine) to prevent future attacks.
If you think your child may need to be seen, call your healthcare provider for advice.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D. FAAP
Last Review: 6/1/2008
Last Revised: 6/1/2000
Copyright 1994-2008 Barton Schmitt, M.D. Parent Advice Messages.