Altitude Sickness Kids: Complete Guide & 8 Tips To Help

Altitude Sickness Kids: Complete Guide & 8 Tips To Help

Altitude sickness can affect kids just as much as adults. As a company with years of high-altitude experience, in this complete guide we'll share everything you need to know about altitude sickness in kids and the best tips to help.

Altitude Sickness Kids

Very few studies exist on altitude sickness in kids, but there's enough evidence indicating that generally mountain illness is very similar to what happens to adults. However, symptoms can be slightly more difficult to identify than in adults.

This concludes that the threat of altitude sickness in kids is very high and precautions should be taken. 

34% Acute Mountain Sickness In Kids

One study done on children traveling the Tibetan plateau at 14,927 feet (4,550 m) discovered occurrence rate of altitude sickness at 34%.¹

Reportedly, this rate of altitude sickness was nearly identical to a study on 5355 adults. Proving that children are affected by altitude sickness in a very similar way when traveling to high altitudes.

Is Altitude Sickness Common In kids?

Yes, altitude sickness is common in kids.

Evidence suggests, like the Tibetan study above, that rates of altitude sickness in children are very similar to adults.¹

Based on the general research and University of Michigan, altitude sickness can start at 6,000 feet.³ Based in Colorado, we see visitors commonly get altitude sickness even lower, where the altitude is 5,280 feet in Denver. At over 10,000 feet, up to 50% of people are reported to get altitude sickness.⁴

Can Kids Take Altitude Sickness Medicine?

While treatment for acute mountain sickness has not been well studied in kids, research suggests that children may use paediatric doses of drugs found effective in adults for serious situations.

Oxygen and dexamethasone (0.15 mg/kg/dose 4 hourly) was given to children, reported by a 1998 research paper.¹

(This is not medical advice, only a journalistic write-up based on information available, and should be consulted by a doctor or medical professional.)

Altitude Sickness Precautions For Children Based On Age

British Medical Journal reports guideline precautions for high altitude exposure in kids. As a conservative approach, these are the precautions recommended to take based on the age of the kid:

  • Kids Under 1 Years Old
    Extended exposure to high altitudes is recommended to be avoid for infants under the age of 1 year.
  • Kids Under 2 Years Old
    Suggested to not sleep any higher than 6,561 feet (2000 m) above sea level.
  • Kids 2-10 Years Old
    Suggested to not sleep any higher than 9842 feet (3000 m) above sea level.

While conservative, these are good general guidelines to follow for altitude sickness kids.

Signs Of Altitude Sickness Symptoms In Kids

Observing symptoms of altitude sickness in younger kids can be the most difficult. It's reported that symptoms such as nausea, headache, anorexia, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and dizziness are rarely reported in kids under 5 years old.

The BabyCenter recommends to take notice of any change in your child's behavior such as irritability, headache, dizziness, or fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, coughing, difficulty walking, and short of breath.⁵

Overall, these are the most common symptoms of altitude sickness:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty walking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Coughing
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin
  • Feeling ill

Signs of altitude sickness usually develop within 6 to 24 hours upon arrival. To catch it early, pay very close attention to your kids for any signs of altitude sickness, even the most subtle symptoms.

Signs Of Altitude Sickness Symptoms In Infants (Under 1)

While finding signs of altitude sickness symptoms in infants will be the hardest, you'll look for the same signs mentioned above for children in general.

A noteworthy warning is made by the British Medical Journal for infants (under 1 years old).¹ Long exposure to high elevations can put them at risk of subacute infantile mountain sickness. It's a severe syndrome of pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure, but only occurred in 1% of kids born between 9,842 - 16,404 feet (3000-5000 m).¹

8 Tips How To Help Kids Avoid Altitude Sickness

High altitudes can be very concerning for parents, leading them to search how to help a child with altitude sickness. As a company with over 10 years of high altitude experience, we've learned the ins and outs of altitude sickness.

We'll share what you need to know to help your kid avoid altitude sickness with the expertise available. This can ensure a safer and more enjoyable trip for your whole family.

Here's 8 Tips How To Help Kids Avoid Altitude Sickness:

1. Proper Hydration

First and foremost, staying hydrated is vital for your child. High elevations can cause water lose to be twice as fast than at sea level according to the Wilderness Medical Society with factors such as increased respiration.⁶

Encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don't feel thirsty. Half their body weight in ounces of water per day is commonly recommended.

TIP: To optimize hydration, add sea salt (containing minerals) to your kids foods and have them take hydration chewable tablets to enhance water absorption.

2. Ascend Slowly

One of the best ways to avoid altitude sickness is to ascend slowly. By gradually acclimating, your kids can adapt to high altitudes better.

For example, if you're visiting the Colorado Rocky mountains that reach heights of 8,000 to 10,000 feet, stay a few nights in Denver first at 5,280 feet. This gives your kids a few days to adapt before moving on to higher altitudes.

3. Drink Tea

Certain herbal teas are used in cultures around the world for the high altitudes. Particularly, you'll find locals in the Andes mountains and the Himalayan mountains drinking tea often.

While not all teas are available in United States, black tea is commonly available which was found to have a positive effect on mood and reduced fatigue at high altitudes.⁷ Packing some tea bags to offer your child a warm cup of tea can provide comfort during your mountain journey.

4. Maximize Sleep

Adequate sleep is essential for your kids when traveling to high altitude destinations. Quality sleep is shown to aid recovery, blood flow, and oxygen.⁸
Make sure your child is getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep a night. Getting natural sunlight during the day can also help sleep and promote healthy melatonin production.

5. Limit Elevation 

With a fun mountain vacation in mind, be mindful of limiting the height of elevation you take your kids up to.

As the British Medical Journal recommends, with kids 2-10 years old you should not exceed 9,842 feet at the place you're staying and sleeping.

6. Take It Easy

High-intensity activity such as hiking can put additional stress on your kids body and further exacerbate potential risks. It's best to take it easy the few days on your trip, or at least until you know your children are free of any signs of altitude sickness.

Instead, focus on gentle walks, light activities and take breaks frequently until your child has become acclimated.

7. Supplemental Oxygen

Oxygen tanks, also known as supplemental oxygen, is a solution for your kid as it has been proven to have noteworthy effect at high altitudes.⁹  Oxygen can provide relief and support breathing.

It's more questionable if the popularized oxygen cans are effective due to containing much less oxygen, but could be an option too.

8. Take Antioxidants

Antioxidants, such as vitamin C and glutathione, are shown to be a viable solution for high altitude.¹¹ This is likely due to the high amounts of oxidative stress you encounter when ascending to high altitudes.¹⁰

In fact, glutathione was shown to deplete in the body by 45% in high elevation conditions.¹² Giving your kids antioxidants to take is optimal to replenish and restore levels such as glutathione to combat free radical damage.

By following these eight proven tips, you can help avoid kids altitude sickness so they have a smoother journey to high-altitude destinations — including proper hydration, ascend slowly, drink tea, maximize sleep, limit elevation, take it easy, supplemental oxygen, and take antioxidants.

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Altitude Chewables
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1. Children In The Mountains - Altitude Sickness Kids
2. High-Altitude Illness - Children Family Doctor
3. Altitude Sickness University Of Michigan Health Service
4. High-altitude illness (including mountain sickness) (Beyond the Basics)
5. Altitude Sickness - How Can I Tell If My Child Has Altitude Sickness? Kids Altitude Sickness
6. Why Do You Need to Drink a Lot of Water at a High Altitude?
7. The Effect Of Drinking Black Tea At High Altitude On Hydration Status And Mood
8. Sleep: The Secret Ingredient of Injury Recovery
9. Supplemental oxygen and hyperbaric treatment at high altitude: cardiac and respiratory response
10. High altitude and oxidative stress
11. Oxidative Stress and Diseases Associated with High-Altitude Exposure
12. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione