An Approach to Children with Pulmonary Edema at High Altitude

High Alt Med Biol. 2018 Mar;19(1):91-98. doi: 10.1089/ham.2017.0096. Epub 2018 Feb 22.


Liptzin, Deborah R., Steven H. Abman, Ann Giesenhagen, and D. Dunbar Ivy. An approach to children with pulmonary edema at high altitude. High Alt Med Biol. 19:91-98, 2018.

Introduction: Diagnosis of high-altitude illness can be more challenging in children, especially those who are preverbal. Families often travel to high elevations for family vacations, either for skiing, hiking, and/or camping. They may present to their primary care providers looking for anticipatory guidance before travel or may follow-up after developing high-altitude illness. High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) can be fatal.

Observations: There is no indication for HAPE prophylaxis in altitude naive children. Children may develop HAPE either when traveling from low altitude to high altitude for vacation (classic HAPE), when returning to high-altitude homes after travel to low altitude (reentry HAPE), or even with a respiratory illness at high altitude without any change in elevation (high-altitude resident pulmonary edema or HARPE). Children may be more susceptible to HAPE because of increased vascular reactivity, immature control of breathing, and increased frequency of respiratory illnesses. Children with HAPE warrant evaluation for underlying cardiopulmonary abnormalities, including structural heart disease and pulmonary hypertension. Treatment of HAPE includes supplemental oxygen and descent, but underlying cardiopulmonary disease may also help guide treatment and prevention.

Conclusions and relevance: Evaluation for structural heart disease and pulmonary hypertension should be considered in children with HAPE. Future studies should be done to elucidate the optimal strategies for prevention and treatment of HAPE and to better understand the development of HAPE in children.

Keywords: altitude; cardiac disease; pediatrics; pulmonary hypertension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altitude Sickness / diagnosis*
  • Altitude Sickness / prevention & control
  • Altitude Sickness / therapy*
  • Altitude*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / diagnosis*
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / prevention & control
  • Hypertension, Pulmonary / therapy*
  • Infant
  • Travel

Supplementary concepts

  • Pulmonary edema of mountaineers