Children's Hospital Colorado

Preventing Altitude Sickness in Children (S2:E33)

Families interested in a little more adventure might travel to high altitude locations. They hope to enjoy activities such as sightseeing, hiking and climbing. Many families are concerned about the impacts of altitude on their children. Their concerns are warranted, too. Children who travel to high altitude locations risk developing some form of acute altitude illness. Fortunately, preparation can help ease symptoms and discomfort.

Even children who live at high elevations can experience altitude-related health complications. Their bodies may have acclimated, but genetic adaptation takes many generations to achieve.

Listen to pediatric medical experts discuss how higher altitude impacts children

In today’s episode we talk to Christine Ebert-Santos, MD. Dr. Ebert-Santos shares what medical experts know about how higher elevations impact children. We also dive into what doctors don’t currently know. By the end of today’s episode, you will feel better equipped to offer guidance to your patients and families.

Dr. Ebert-Santos is a pediatrician at the Ebert Family Clinic in Summit County, Colorado. Summit County is a mountainous region with elevations ranging from 7,957 feet (2,425 m) at Green Mountain Reservoir to 14,270 feet (4,350 m) at Grays Peak. Breckinridge, which sits at 9,602 feet (2,927 m), is the county's seat. Breckenridge is one of the highest incorporated cities in the United States. It's also a popular vacation destination for families around the world.

In this episode, our experts discuss:

  • The difference between being acclimatized and being adapted to high altitudes
  • How parents can prepare their children for visits to high altitude regions
  • The height above sea level when children typically begin to experience altitude-related symptoms
  • What Acetazolamide does to prevent the onset of acute mountain sickness, why it’s safe for use in children, and the correct dosages to prescribe
  • Why it’s so important to carry a pulse oximeter when visiting high altitude regions
  • When families should visit an oxygen bar or use canned oxygen to relieve their child’s altitude illness symptoms
  • The risk of a child developing high altitude pulmonary edema
  • Which populations have an increased risk of developing high altitude pulmonary edema
  • How the high altitude pulmonary edema diagnosing process typically progresses
  • Which treatment physicians should use first in high altitude pulmonary edema cases
  • Why children with Down syndrome are at higher risk for elevation-related illnesses
  • Recommendations on when children with Down syndrome should avoid high altitude regions altogether
  • Why lower birth weights and growth rates of babies in high altitude areas are not always problematic
  • The need for more research into cases of post-surgical and post-traumatic high altitude cerebral edema
  • Considerations for patients who reside in higher elevations
  • What to look for when a child becomes sick after returning home from a visit to a lower elevation region
  • How families can salvage their vacations by being prepared and well-informed about treatments

For more information on how high elevations impact our health, be sure to visit the High Altitude Health blog. Dr. Ebert-Santos shares her research and tips to help families have a healthy and enjoyable high-altitude vacation.

Treating acute mountain sickness and other high elevation illnesses at Children’s Colorado

At Children’s Colorado, our pediatric providers and experts understand that children and teens deserve special attention and that being in Colorado presents special challenges. We see more, treat more and heal more children than any hospital in our seven-state region. Refer a patient to Children’s Colorado.