Friday, January 15, 2016

Dealing with Altitude

Please see the updated post March 2018

This is the time of year when we get a lot of calls from folks wanting to take a road trip up to the mountains and asking about whether or not altitude is a problem for the baby. Keep in mind that many babies are born in places quite a bit above sea level and live their lives in high altitude year round.

Some folks in general are more sensitive to altitude issues than others, but there is no real difference between adults and children.Most people can tolerate altitudes below 2500 meters/8200 feet with only mild discomfort. If your child has significant heart or lung issues if is worth checking in with your specialist prior to travel. For the majority of my patients, Tahoe is generally okay for any age.

Mild symptoms can still have an impact. Folks may have headaches, tire easily and be a bit short of breath. Dr. Kaplan adds that tummies can get upset because the gas in your gut expands. Make sure your bring gas-X or simethicone along to help deal with this.

It is essential to make sure that you and your kids stay hydrated. Breastfeeding moms should take extra care that they are drinking enough.

Sunburn can happen easily in the high altitude. This is even more of an issue when there is snow or water to reflect the sun. Make sure you have appropriate sun protection for skin and eyes.

In the winter time, the air tends to be drier. The need to use heat in your accommodations can exacerbate that. It is worth bringing along your humidifier. (If you are flying, consider purchasing an inexpensive one when you get there.)

The biggest difference between adults and young children is that the adults can communicate what they are feeling. Babies can’t. If your baby appears pale, fussy or has labored breathing, get them to a travel clinic to be assessed. Make sure they have the oxygen level checked. On the other hand, young babies aren’t generally hiking around or doing anything strenuous so in some cases, they may have an easier time.

If you are traveling to a place that is higher than 8,200 feet, see if you can get there in stages so that your body has a little bit of time to acclimate. Know ahead of time what medical services are available should any family members run into trouble. Dr. Kaplan has had some patients, traveling to Colorado high country, who needed supplemental oxygen.

I personally am an altitude wimp. I like my oxygen and have trouble if I am anywhere over 5,000 feet. I will NOT be accompanying my husband and oldest daughter this coming July when they climb Mt. Kilimanjaro...20,000 feet.


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