Outdoor First Aid

Medicine Man: High-Altitude Kids

Advice on kids and herbs at altitude.

Q: Are children more susceptible to altitude sickness? How high can kids safely go?
V.L.H., Oshkosh, WI

A: As high as they can climb. Kids are sturdier than we think and scientific data supports this. Studies suggest that young hikers are not more susceptible to altitude sickness than the rest of us; indeed, many children travel to resorts at high elevations without complications. As with adults, altitude sickness is selective with kids – some are affected, others are not. Do make sure you allow time for acclimatization and have your kids drink extra fluids and eat regularly (as you should, too). And watch them closely. In children 8 and older, look for the following symptoms: headache, nausea, loss of appetite, and general lassitude. If you’re taking younger children up high, watch for unusual fussiness and an inability to sleep. In all cases, be proactive. If you think a child is ill from the elevation, descend 1,500 to 3,000 feet; if he doesn’t feel better within a few hours, exit the trail and find a doctor.

High-Altitude Remedies

Q: Besides acclimatizing and drinking plenty of fluids, can I use herbs to prevent altitude sickness? Which herbs are best?

J. N., Redlands, California
A: Only one herb has successfully passed the thin-air test: ginkgo biloba. Three separate studies have found that the herb is effective at preventing altitude sickness or reducing its intensity. It certainly won’t work for every climber – people respond differently to herbs – but there’s evidence it will help some. If you choose to try it, take 120 milligrams of ginkgo bilboa twice a day for 5 days before and during your ascent.