High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema in Mountain Community Residents

High Alt Med Biol. 2017 Sep;18(3):278-284. doi: 10.1089/ham.2016.0100. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Ebert-Santos, Christine. High-altitude pulmonary edema in mountain community residents. High Alt Med Biol. 18:278-284, 2017.-High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) affects lowlanders ascending quickly to elevations above 2440 m. Mountain resident children with no travel can sometimes develop HAPE as was observed over 30 years ago (Fasules et al., 1985). This is not well known and children instead are diagnosed as having pneumonia or asthma. In our clinic at 2800 m, we see children presenting with severe hypoxemia, clinical, and radiographic findings consistent with HAPE despite no recent travel. We call this mountain resident HAPE. We reviewed records of 48 patients with pulmonary symptoms. Analysis included vital signs, pulse oximetry, laboratories, physical findings, and clinical course. We identified 33 residents with HAPE and no travel, five with reentry HAPE, two visitors with classic HAPE, six residents with pneumonia, and two with asthma. Also, 48 X-rays on hypoxemic children seen between 2006 and 2017 were reviewed. Five showed definite HAPE with follow-up X-rays within 48 hours confirming rapid clearing on oxygen, 27 showed findings consistent with HAPE or viral pneumonia and no repeat study. Children living at elevation presenting with hypoxemia are commonly misdiagnosed. Rapid improvement with oxygen and little to no improvement with bronchodilators are more consistent with HAPE, and thus, antibiotics and other treatments can be avoided.

Keywords: high-altitude pulmonary edema; hypoxemia; oxygen; pneumonia; resident.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Altitude Sickness / diagnosis*
  • Altitude Sickness / physiopathology
  • Altitude*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / physiopathology
  • Infant
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male

Supplementary concepts

  • Pulmonary edema of mountaineers