Altitude Sickness

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Altitude Sickness- Ideas for children?

March 2009

My daughter has become sick several times on airplanes and once at Lake Tahoe. Her symptoms include fainting, excessive yawning, and throwing up. Medical tests didn't show any problems so altitude seems to be the most likely issue. We're planning a trip to Tahoe this month and I wasn't able to get much advice from our medical provider. The response I received was that medication are not available for children. Any ideas? Anyone have experience with this? Thank you.

We brought up our kids going to Lassen and Tahoe often. Proper hydration will lessen the symptoms. Maybe baby aspirin for headaches. Non greasy foods and light meals. No strenuous activity for the first day (I know this is hard when you are only going for a weekend of skiing...). Hope this is helpful to you (this is also from my years of high altitude trips). kathryn

Well, I don't know what to do for children, but I've had altitude sickness several times as an adult flying to Quito, Ecuador from sea level. If possible, can you go a day or two in advance and stay at an altitude about one-half or two-thirds the altitude you will be at when at lake Tahoe? That will give her body time to adjust slightly which will ease her transition to the higher altitude. The more time at a reduced altitude, the better. Drinking lots of water helps, too. I could only stomach one thing when I had altitude sickness: papaya juice, made from real papayas with no other ingredients. Any melons should help her stomach if she'll eat them. Hope this helps. Andi

When we are going somewhere with a high altitude we drink lots and lots of fluids, including some with electrolytes, like Recharge which is more natural than gatorade. It has worked well for not getting altitude sickness. Dehydration can be a problem.

I just bought ChlorOxygen at Pharmaca on Solano Ave last night. I am not using it for altitude, but that is one of the conditions it treats. It is Chlorophyll that aids transportation of oxygen in the blood. So you get more oxygen to the brain and other parts of your body. So far I only had one dose (alcohol free) and I feel great and haven't yawned at all. I am using it together with Vertigoheel hoping to get rid of a recurring, lingering vertigo condition. Anonymous

I have no idea if this is based on actual data or anything, but when I went trekking in Nepal I was told to eat a lot of garlic. I did and never had any problems. Also, maybe if you go up more slowly it will giveher some time to acclimate. anon

My son gets altitude sickness too. It usually hits about 8-12 hours after we arrive at altitude and only affects him for about 24 hours and then he's over it. Lots of water, lots of rest and he's done. However it sounds like your daughter is much more affected by altitude. Have you ever stayed at altitude long enough for her to adjust? In the most severe cases I've ever seen, it goes away after a couple of days. Good Luck!

For some people, it just take time to acclimate to high altitude. I recommend that for the first day, she just sit and read or watch tv. Or maybe try beach vacations instead of mountain vacations. Another thing that works is going up two weekends in a row. Do nothing the first weekend, then the next weekend she might still be acclimated from the previous time, and she can do normal activities. anon

I don't have any ideas, but one poster recommended baby aspirin for children's headacahes, and I just wanted to put out the reminder that aspirin is never recommended for children, due to chance of Reyes' syndrome. health professional

My roommates child had both motion and altitude sickness and responded well to a combination of drammamine(sp) and the accupressure wrist bands that can be found at drugstores. I used ginger lolly pops for my vertigo and they worked, but I'm guessing altitude sickness may not respond ( Good luck! Nanci

Going to the mountains this summer

June 2006

We are taking our 9 year old and his friend to the mountains at 10,000 foot elevation this Summer. Once I got altitude sickness really bad, so I am looking for advise about how to avoid it for the kids and ourselves, and also what to do about it if you get it. Thanks for any info
gone hiking

Several times I have flown from Los Angeles at sea level to Quito, Ecuador (at 9200 feet) and boy, did I get altitude sickness BAD everytime. The only time I did not get altitude sickness in Quito was when I spent a month at around 4000 -- 5000 ft and then went to Quito. So, avoid going straight to 10,000 ft. If you can, take a couple (or few) days to work up to it. Can you stay for a night or two (or more) at 5000 or 6000 ft on your way up? My stomach also got so upset with altitude sickness that I couldn't eat and that made everything worse. (This instantly went away when I dropped in altitude and I would gorge myself after only having papaya juice for days in Quito.) Could you ask your pediatrician if perhaps you could get some zantac or something similar for your kids in case they get bad stomach aches so this way they can still eat and will do much better? Also, the better athletic shape you are in before you go, the better you will do. So run around with your kids LOTS before you go. As for the adults, alcohol and cigarettes makes altitude sickness worse so avoid those while up high. Good luck and have fun! Anon

Just posted (about my trips to Quito) but forgot to mention: if you get a horrible case of altitude sickness, just leave and go down in altitude. The one good thing about altitude sickness is that symptoms immediately disappear as soon as you go down and get closer to sea level Anon

1. Ascend slowly. The longer it takes you to get to 10,000 feet, the better - gives your body time to acclimate. Don't go from sea level to 10k without a few days' at lower altitude; go slow! With my school-aged kids I would plan on 3 or 4 days at lower altitude, working our way up. 2. Drink lots of fluids. Good for you for going on an adventure. have fun! Happy trails!

I lived at 10,000 ft. altitude for a year. I was SO sick for the first couple of weeks- mainly because of a severe forest fire- but also because that altitude is tough for even a fit person! I've retured for extended stays in the same town, and it ALL comes down to this:

1. Drink LOTS, and I mean lots of water the week before. The 8 servings of 8oz just won't cut it. For an adult I would bump it to around a gallon or more a day. You'll pee a lot, but it will help with the headaches, fatigue and nausea a good bit.

2. Load up on potassium the week before, as well. Don't go overboard, but make it a point to have consistent doses. I found a banana a day will do wonders! Continue this for a couple of days after you arrive too.

3. Get lots of sleep prior and after you arrive. It will allow your body adequate rest time to adjust to the lack of oxygen. In my experience, if I cut out any one of these, I had horrible headaches and nausea and I just couldn't enjoy myself for several days after I arrived.

4. I don't know what anyone else would say about this, but I also found taking two ibuprophen (sp?) in the morning and in the mid afternoon dilated my blood vessels or thinned my blood (or whatever it does) enough to alleviate headaches brought on by the thin air, which inadvertantly effected my eyesight. I would adjust the amount, of course, for the kids- if you choose to give them that. BUT I have to say it did really help overall with the altitude sickness. As a general rule, you may not want to plan any vigorous activities for the first day to give your body time to adjust. Even an easy hike can leave you huffing and puffing! Have a GREAT time! Natalia

Probably the two most important things for preventing altitude sickness are to take it easy for the first couple of days and to stay well hydrated--very well hydrated. I think it's suggested that you drink two to three times as much water as usual. It's also a good idea to limit caffeine (like colas) and salty foods while aclimating. Don't get sunburned.

That said, some kids (and some adults) don't tolerate altitude well, and the most reliable way to feel better is to get to a lower altitude. It can make a difference just to spend a few hours at a lower altitude as a break, say 5000 or 6000 ft.

There is a medicine you can take, but I don't have experience with it, or know if it's ok for kids Love thin air, myself

We did many backpacking trips in the Sierras when our children were young to altitudes as high as 14,000 ft. We also trekked to 21,000 ft. in the Himalayas this year, so I have recent experience with the effects of altitude and can appreciate your concern. The key rule is not to ascend too quickly and if possible, to sleep lower than you have hiked during the day. Another rule of thumb is to rest a day after each 3,000 ft. of altitude gain. You should also descend if you experience more than mild symptoms of altitude sickness (i.e., headache, nausea, appetite loss, shortness of breath or lethargy).

Since poor judgment is also a symptom of altitude sickness, good advance planning is recommended. For example, when we hike to Vogelsang High Camp in Yosemite, we generally will make reservations to spend one night in the Valley at 4,000 ft. and 2 nights in Tuolumne Meadows (8,500) before hiking to the 10,000 ft. camp. We also plan dayhikes that are higher than we are sleeping (e.g, up Mt. Hoffman and Mt. Dana).

Diamox helps when trekking over 14,000 ft., but it shouldn't be necessary at 10,000 ft. However, anti-acid tablets are good for mild nausea and aspirin or tylenol for headaches. It is normal to experience some shortness of breath and weakness at altitude, so don't panic if you or your children experience these symptoms. On the other hand, if anyone is vomiting, having trouble breathing, suffering from a headache that does not ease with medication, acting confused or losing their balance; you should probably descend.

However, if you go slowly and don't push your children, they should acclimate after a few days at altitude and not be at any risk. Just try to have fun with them and enjoy the beauty of the high mountains. Our backpacking trips were the best and most bonding times we spent with our children and they learned self-reliance, goal setting and a love of the wilderness. They were also very proud of their achievements and had a different attitude about themselves and what they really needed when we returned to civilization. Linnea

I always get the most sick in my hiking party and am always the most fit: I hate altitude sickness! I've even done breath control exercises that are supposed to prepare the body as though at high altitude, but no success. I've never been really sick, just the no appetite, puking and splitting head-ache after a long day when I awoke at sea level, drove to 7,000 and hiked to 10,000. This is what I've learned: acclimate slowly with at least one night at 7,000 before moving up. Exercise at 7,000 to build your blood's capacity to carry more oxygen, but don't exhaust yourself. I'll repeat, don't exhaust yourself, especially not while gaining elevation. If you or the kids get lethargic, in addition to the puking and headache, descend immediately. I assume that you are car camping. If not, I'd stay close to the car for the first couple of nights so you can descend quickly if your symptoms progress. Descent is the answer. I've never done an emergeny descent, but my friend strapped his listless girlfriend to a yak in the middle of the night in the Himilayas, and she instantly felt like a million bucks with just a few thousand feet of descent. Altitude sickness is always worse at night, so have a night-time plan. If you feel good after your second night at 10,000, I'd say go for it and hike-away from the roads that you would need for a midnight descent. You can get drugs that minimize the altitude sickness effects, but I've heard that thay are dangerous because they can just mask the symptoms: I definitely wouldn't use them with kids. Have fun hiking: wish i was going, seriously! love the mountains (despite the puking)

Daughter reacting to high altitudes on snow trips

March 2004

We just came back from our second consecutive trip to the snow in which my 10-year-old daughter came down - rapidly - with a headache, mild nausea, and just a general complaint about not feeling well. The first time we attributed it to over-hunger and fatigue, but now that it's happened twice in a row, we're wondering if perhaps it could be a reaction to higher altitudes. Both times we were around 6500 feet elevation. As soon as we got back to sea level, she perked right up. We used to go to the snow all the time and this was never an issue. She had mono this fall and is just now acting like her old spunky self, so I don't think it's a belated consequence of that virus, but these two times have been odd. Have other parents experienced this with your kids? Thanks. Holding off on the ski lessons

Hi! I haven't experienced altitude sickness with kids, but I experienced this myself. Three times I have gone from sea level to Quito, Ecuador which is at about 9200 ft in altitude. I always got sick, with the same symptoms as your daughter: headaches, nausea (so bad that I could only consume papaya juice while in the city, even if for a week!), and just low energy. As soon as I dropped in altitude, I was immediately fine, and usually ravenous. I could eat anything (and I ate everything!). The one time I did not experience altitude sickness in Quito was when I arrived there after spending one month living and hiking between 4000 and 5000 ft. For altitude sickness, they suggest gradually ascending in altitude. Can you spend a night on your way to the mountains midway between sea level and 6500 feet, say somewhere in the foothills about 3500 - 4000 feet? Being in very good shape can also help adjust to altitude. Could your daughter be anemic? Is she pretty active? I wasn't in shape the three times I went to Quito and got sick. Perhaps get a checkup for her before you go, or wait until she's a little older and more active if you can't gradually increase her altitude. You may want to talk with a doctor or nurse experienced with travel medicine too (like a travel clinic). Good luck! Andi

My third daughter has altitude sickness. I was much slower than the poster. It took me about eight years to figure it out. Every time we went up to the mountains she was whiney and wouldn't want to do anything. Then she began throwing up and actually fainted. I finally got it. The doctor says there are pills one can take but they only work some of the time. His advise was she drink water--which she does--and take it easy for the first 24 hours--which she does. Altitude sickness is just something she has and has learned to live with it. When we plan trips to the mountains we factor in time for adjustment and usually by the end of the second day she is well enough to join in activities and certainly by the third day she is fine. Good luck Janet

I grew up in Salt Lake, we went up in the mountains all the time, and that sounds exactly like altitude sickness. I never had it, but my friends sometimes did -- and my mom, who taught sixth grade and took her students up to a mountain camp every year, saw lots and lots of it. Her advice about what to do: eat less before you go and when you get there, SERIOUSLY restrict the sugar, and take it very easy for the first 48 hours (no running around). Karen

I have a fair amount of mountaineering and hiking experience at high altitudes and am familiar with signs of altitude sickness. The headaches, nausea and ill-feelings your daughter experienced, given the context in which she experienced them, definitely point to altitude sickness, expecially when you say she was fine once back at sea level. Some people can experience these symptoms even lower than 6500 feet, such as when visiting Denver, which is around 5000 feet. The fact that your daughter was not bothered by the altitude previously has little bearing on whether she may be affected in the future. A person may feel no symptoms on one occasion, and be sick the next. Drinking LOTS of water can help when at high altitudes. Adults can take Diamox or other drugs to assist the body in acclimatizing--not sure whether a doctor would prescribe for children, though. Talk to a doctor who specializes in travel medicine, as most general practitioners are not as up to speed on altitude-related issues. Your daughter may be fine on the next ski trip, or may have the same reaction as the last two times... I would guess she will suffer the same symptoms next time, though, since she has twice in a row. poff

We have a family cabin up in the Sierras at 8,700ft. It takes at least one full day for my 3 year old daughter and myself to get acclimated. Our symptoms have been fatigue, loss of appetite and sometimes headaches for me. It sounds like what your daughter may be experiencing is accute mountain sickness, also called AMS. It is the most common form of altitude sickness. It can occur at elevations as low as 4,000ft - 6,000ft. The symptoms are fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, headache and sometimes vomiting. My advice if you want to ever go back to skiiing is - TAKE IT SLOW! Make sure you let your daughter get acclimated. Try not to be too physically active at first. Let her rest and relax for the first day or two (this can be next to impossible if your trip is only for the weekend). Make sure she drinks plenty of water, gets plently of sleep (sometimes the altitude can effect your ability to sleep).I've read that alcohol and some kinds of medications can actually make the symptoms of altitude sickness worse. Next time you go skiing with your daughter just remember this basic rule of thumb with AMS: if you are experiencing altitude sickness, no matter how mild, don't push yourself physically and never go up to higher elevations till you've rested a few days and have acclimated to the elevation that you are at. Laurey

As far as I know, I didn't have any problems with altitude as a child, although I never went to any extreme heights. Somewhere around my late 20's, I would feel like I had a mild flu at about 3000' or more- I just considered it bad luck. Then I went on an easy backpacking trip at 5000', and felt terrible- disabling fatigue, blinding headache, mild nausea, and I couldn't eat- and my fellow hikers enlightened me to the fact that this was altitude sickness. Friends told me that all I had to do was to allow a few days for acclimation and it would pass. So I went for a week's stay near Tahoe, and I was sick for the whole time- the worst part was a blinding headache. I barely summoned up the energy for a bit of very low-key cross country skiing. The only good part was that I lost about 5# in one week since I had to force myself to eat much of anything. I did some research and learned that I suffered from Chronic, rather than Acute, Altitude Sickness, which does not let up and the only remedy is to get off the mountain. I took another trip to the Sierras in a couple of years and tried taking Diamox, which did greatly lessen my symptoms but made me very spacey and off- balance. I was interested to learn that Altitude Sickness is not fully understood, but as I recall it has something to do with the passage of oxygen through cell membranes (I don't remember in any detail), and has nothing to do with the inner ear which I had thought it did. I love the beauty of the mountains and will try again someday, in the hope that whatever was happening has modified with time. Cecelia

Going to La Paz (12,000 ft) with a toddler

Nov 1999

Since recent posts have gotten people thinking about traveling with toddlers, I wanted to add a request. We're going to travel to La Paz, Bolivia, elevation about 12,000 feet, and have wondered about the altitude effects on our toddler. We asked her pediatrician and she said she couldn't really find anything specifically about this, so probably not much of an issue. Anybody else have experience with this? Thanks.

We took our two and a half year old to Ecuador and stayed in the Andes the whole time. I was pregnant then and it took me longer to adjust than my husband or her. She seemed just fine, and had no problems. Have a good time!

There are two separate issues, short-term and long-term. Long-term (1 week +) your child will adjust, just like all the native-born children do. Short-term, anyone who travels quickly from sea level to 12,000 feet is very likely to experience altitude sickness (tiredness, dizzyness on standing, lack of stamina, loss of appetite), which is debilitating but not life-threatening. A few people who travel rapidly to 12,000 people will experience high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a life-threatening disease which must be treated immediately. The treatment for HAPE is to increase oxygen intake. The traditional means to do this is to go down in elevation. The emergency way to do it is by use of oxygen breathing equipment or a device called a Gamow bag, either or both of which would be available in a La Paz hospital. However, prevention always beats treatment. If you can spend some time (1-2 days) at an intermediate elevation before going to La Paz (e.g., a stop off in Mexico City at 7500' or Cuzco, Peru at 10,000', that will help. The plane flight itself will give some acclimatization, because planes are usually pressurized to the equivalent of about 6000'. In La Paz itself, you will find that the city is laid out along a steeply-sloping hill, with the ritzier neighborhoods at the bottom where the air is thicker. The airport is on the plateau abovethe city. Try to arrange in advance to spend your first 2-3 nights at someplace at the bottom of town, where the elevation is closer to 11,000. That 1000 feet will be quite noticeable!

If you want more info, there are numerous mountaineering websites with info on HAPE. One operated by an emergency medical service in Nepal is particularly good. I researched all of this intensively 2 years ago before a personal trip to over 20,000 feet on which we brought a Gamow bag and used it to resuscitate a climber who came down with HAPE at 19,000'. I don't have any of the Web addresses anymore, but a search for HAPE and climbing should get you started.