High-altitude illness in the pediatric population: a review of the literature on prevention and treatment

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Increasing numbers of children are now traveling to high-altitude destinations, and pediatricians often see these children prior to and immediately following their travels. Thus, pediatricians have the opportunity to provide guidance for the prevention of altitude illness and must treat high-altitude illness (HAI) in some circumstances. This review will examine guidelines for prevention and management of HAI in the pediatric population.

Recent findings

Recent research has examined children's short-term cardiorespiratory adaptation to high altitude, incidence of acute mountain sickness, hypoxic ventilator response, and maximal exercise capacity. Overall, studies indicate that children and adults are largely similar in these variables. Furthermore, studies suggest that heritability seems to be a component of response to altitude and development of altitude illness – a finding that may have implications for family vacation planning.

Summary

Increasing numbers of children are visiting high altitude destinations. Whereas most of these child travelers will only experience mild to moderate symptoms of HAI, a small percentage, particularly those with predisposing health conditions, may experience severe disease. Pediatricians should encourage preventive measures with an emphasis on gradual ascent and vigilance for onset of symptoms that should prompt immediate transport to medical care.

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