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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
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
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