Altitude sickness is also called acute mountain sickness. It is a problem that can occur if you travel to a high altitude (usually over 8000 feet above sea level). When you travel from a low elevation or sea level to a high altitude your body needs time to adjust (acclimate) to the altitude.
Symptoms of altitude sickness appear about 6 to 8 hours after arriving at a higher altitude. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms occur in about half of the people who suddenly go from sea level to 10,000 feet above sea level without giving their bodies a chance to get used to the altitude. The chance of having symptoms increases as the altitude gets higher.
Altitude sickness is caused by the lower amount of oxygen in the air at higher altitudes. Your body has to work harder to get the oxygen it needs. Many people travel to mountainous areas (6,000 to 10,000 ft) and begin doing a lot of activity (such as hiking and skiing) before their bodies have had time to adjust.
Most people with altitude sickness feel normal in 2 or 3 days.
In severe cases, when someone has made a sudden climb to over 10,000 ft and has overexerted himself, there can be life-threatening complications. These complications include pulmonary edema (lung failure) or cerebral edema (swelling of the brain).
Quickly take your child to a lower altitude. Go down at least 2000 feet, and always go below 10,000 feet. If your child cannot walk, carry him or her in a sitting position. Give the child oxygen as soon as you can.
Symptoms usually go away after to 2 or 3 days of rest, fluids, and a light diet. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given for the headache (aspirin may make it worse and is not recommended for children). The dizziness and headache can usually be improved by deliberately breathing faster and deeper to bring in more oxygen. Skiing, hiking, or any other type of exercise should be postponed. Once your child feels healthy again, he can gradually return to activities and higher elevation. Breathing from an oxygen tank can improve symptoms temporarily but is generally unnecessary when the symptoms are not severe.
Newborns and mountain travel
Destinations and staying overnight in locations above 8,000 feet are a concern if you have a newborn. However, brief travel over mountain passes (10,000 to 11,000 feet) is safe. In general, travel to elevations above 8,000 feet are best postponed for the first month of life, unless you live at that elevation and your pregnancy took place there. If you are coming from sea level with a newborn, you should avoid mountain vacations above 8,000 feet for the first 1 or 2 months of life. Travel to the mountains shouldn't cause any problems if the destination is less than 8,000 feet.
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