Periodic Breathing in Relation to High Altitude

Children in high altitudes may develop a condition known as periodic breathing while sleeping. It occurs when a child alternates between deep-breathing and shallow breathing. Often, several deep breaths are taken before the child pauses the breathing pattern, holding his or her breath for several seconds at a time. Often children are unaware of the condition unless they awaken during the breath-holding phase.

Did you know…

that approximately 1 in 4 children who ascend to high altitudes over 2,500 meters will experience periodic breathing? Nearly all children will develop the condition once they reach altitudes of 4,000 meters or higher. The condition may cause anxiety in both the child and those near the child when periodic breathing occurs, especially considering some children will hold their breath for up to 10 seconds or more during sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes children to experience periodic breathing?

The presence of carbon dioxide in the blood helps regulate breathing at sea level. But at high altitudes, your child’s body is instead prompted to breathe by low blood oxygen levels. Because children breathe harder and faster at high altitudes, the body may not breathe until it senses low blood oxygen levels, thus causing periodic pauses between breaths.

What are the symptoms of periodic breathing in a child?

A child with periodic breathing may gasp for air during sleep, perhaps awakening himself or others around him. Usually, the condition is characterized by several deep breaths, followed by several short and shallow breaths or no breathing at all.

Will my child need treatment for periodic breathing?

If periodic breathing is an issue for your child, schedule an appointment with a pediatric pulmonolgist who can evaluate his or her breathing patterns and determine whether there is a need for treatment. There are some medications which may be beneficial to your child in helping regulate sleep patterns.

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