Sunday, April 29, 2012

How to avoid, treat altitude sickness in kids

Since air pressure is lower at higher elevations, you will inhale less oxygen in mountainous areas. For most hikers, the problem begins when reaching 8,000 feet above sea level, in which acute mountain sickness can affect both child and adult. More serious and deadlier problems can occur at higher than 12,000 feet, and parents shouldn’t take their children above that level.

Fortunately, few points in North America are that high, so you’ll rarely encounter this issue, unless you’re trying to peakbag the United States’ or Canada’s highest mountains. Children will suffer from altitude sickness more readily than adults. As their bodies are still developing, they simply don’t have the ability to adjust as quickly to changes in oxygen levels as do adults.

To avoid altitude sickness, go at a slow pace that allows time for acclimatization. Limit altitude changes to no more than 2000-3000 feet so long as you’re returning to your starting point.

Signs of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, dehydration, headache, nausea and dizziness. If the child becomes confused, clumsy, vomits and has a dry cough, the condition is serious. Treating altitude sickness requires descending to a lower elevation where there’s more oxygen. In addition, drink extra water to avoid dehydration, and eat light, high-carbohydrate meals. If the condition is serious, get medical attention immediately.

Read more about day hiking with children in my guidebook Hikes with Tykes.