Is There a Need for At Home Infant Monitors?

People living at higher altitude, such as here in Summit County, where the elevation is above 9,000 feet, commonly have lower oxygen saturations than people residing at lower elevations. It has been suggested, but not proven, that hypoxia (low oxygen saturation) may be a contributing factor to SIDS. Does this mean parents at high elevations should constantly monitor their healthy babies at night? The simple answer? No.

A study from 2015 states that “residence at high altitude was significantly associated with an increased adjusted risk for SIDS.”1 However, one of the authors from that study, Dr. David Katz, a cardiologist at the University of Colorado Denver, states that “the absolute risk of SIDS remains very low, and … this is in no way a call to abandon residence in or visits to high-altitude” locations. The authors stress ’that even at high elevations, the risk of SIDS is still low. Even above 8,000 feet, a baby’s chance of dying of SIDS is only 0.079 percent.” 5

The Owlet is a new infant physiologic monitor built into a sock that monitors heart rate and oxygen saturation. It connects to smartphones and is advertised to alert parents when something is wrong with their baby. However, their website clearly states the $250 device is “not a medical device,” and is only intended to provide a “peace of mind” for parents. It is “not intended to diagnose, treat, mitigate, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.”4 Healthy infants sometimes have desaturations less than 80% without consequence, and these monitors could lead to over-diagnosis and instill unnecessary fear into parents of healthy babies.2 An American Academy of Pediatrics policy states “home cardiorespiratory monitoring should not be prescribed to prevent SIDS.” Multiple studies have been unable to provide a need for their use on healthy babies.3

We bought an Owlet to try for our clinic, and were not impressed. One employee had a difficult time getting it to stay on her newborn; whereas another employee said it didn’t hold a charge very well, and the alarm would sometimes go off without reason.

Healthy babies are healthy babies! There are proven practices that decrease the risk of SIDS—supine sleep position, safe sleeping environments, and elimination of prenatal and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke.3 Currently, there is no proven need to purchase and use infant physiologic monitors, such as the Owlet, on your healthy babies!


Kayleigh Belsey, PAS-II

Midwestern University Physician Assistant Program

Clinical Rotation- June 2017


  1. Katz, D., MD, Shore, S., MD, Bandle, B., MPH, Niermeyer, S., MD, MPH, Bol, K. A., MSPH, & Khanna, A., MD. (2015). Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Residential Altitude. Pediatrics, 135(6). Retrieved June 25, 2017, from
  1. Bonafide, C. P., MD, MSCE, Jamison, D. T., MBA, BSEE, PMP, & Foglia, E. E., MD, MSCE. (2017). The Emerging Market of Smartphone-Integrated Infant Physiologic Monitors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 317(4), 353-354.
  1. Apnea, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Home Monitoring. (2003). Pediatrics, 111(4), 914-917. Retrieved June 25, 2017, from
  1. Http:// (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2017.
  1. Pappas, S. (2015, May 25). Sudden Infant Deaths Linked to Elevation. Retrieved June 25, 2017, from 

Slumber Up: Sleeping at High Altitude


Does high altitude affect sleep quality? The answer is that for some, it does. If you’ve ever quickly arrived to the mountains on a ski or summer getaway, you may have experienced fitful and non-restful sleep. Individual responses to high altitude may vary, however there is an understood physiological basis for sleep disruption at altitude.


A phenomenon known as “periodic breathing of altitude” is commonly experienced above 2500 m of elevation (about 8200 ft) in those not previously acclimatized [2]. This is a common sleep elevation in Colorado mountain towns such as Frisco, Colorado (proud home to this blog!). Periodic breathing of altitude may be more likely to occur as sleeping altitude increases. Here’s the science behind it:


The decreased atmospheric pressure at altitude results in less oxygen driven into the lungs and through to the bloodstream. The body attempts to compensate by increasing the rate of breathing (tachypnea), which also causes more carbon dioxide to be exhaled. Chemoreceptors sense the decrease in carbon dioxide and signal the body to stop breathing temporarily (apnea) to correct the imbalance. Alternating cycles of tachypnea and apnea continue to occur during sleep. The result is decreased REM sleep, which is a critical restful and rejuvenating phase [2].


Worried about your next sleepless night on a mountain trip? Fortunately, there’s acetazolamide (Diamox). It is a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor that works by eliminating bicarbonate in the urine, which is a base. The body subsequently becomes more acidic, and that acid in the bloodstream is readily converted to carbon dioxide. The body is “tricked” into thinking that there is plenty of carbon dioxide present in the bloodstream, and periods of apnea during sleep may be reduced or eliminated [3].


To help prevent periodic breathing of altitude, adults can take acetazolamide preferably starting on the day before ascent or on the first day at altitude. Adults typically take 125 mg twice a day until either 3 days at altitude has been reached or descent back down has occurred [1]. Ask your healthcare provider about what’s right for you. Consider acetazolamide next time you’re sleeping up high, and get that refreshing sleep that allows you to better enjoy the things you love at altitude!


-Justin Murphy, PA-S

Red Rocks Community College Physician Assistant Program

Clinical Rotation- May 2017



1) Athena Health (2017). Acetazolamide generic. Epocrates Online. Retrieved from:

2) Gallagher, S. A., Hackett, P., & Rosen, J. M. (2017). High altitude illness: Physiology, risk factors and general prevention. Up To Date, Topic 181,  Version 20.0.  Retrieved from:

3) Winter, C. (2016). Sleeping around: How to sleep at high altitude. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

Heart Attack Deaths at Elevation in Visitors

Last year in Summit County, 23 people died of heart complications, 19 of which were visitors ascending to higher altitude.  Most of these visitors were in their 50s or older and died within one to two days after coming to elevation (Queen, 2017).

Acute exposure to high altitude over 2500 m can cause great strain on the body and is associated with significant alterations to the cardiovascular system such as tissue hypoxia and increased pulmonary artery pressures.  Although the concentration of oxygen at elevation is the same at sea level, the air is thinner causing less oxygen to breath.  At sea level the percent of effective oxygen concentration is around 20% where as in Summit County the percentage of effective oxygen drops down to 14%.  At higher elevation such as the ski areas the percentage of effective oxygen drops down to 13% (Queen, 2017).  As a result, the heart will pump faster to increase the delivery of oxygen to the body.  The cardiac stress at rest is minimal, however it can be significant during exercise.  Anyone with some degree of heart complication can worsen the stress on their heart when coming to higher elevation (Bach, 2013).

Hypoxemia due to high altitude can cause poor oxygenation of the lungs and constriction of blood vessels, causing an increase in pulmonary pressure and increasing hypertension.  Therefore, an acute exposure to high altitude can cause cardiovascular stress.  Residents of high elevation tend to do better because they have anatomical and physiological changes in their cardiovascular system that allows them to adapt to high-altitude chronic hypoxia (Hurtado et al., 2012).

It is recommended that any patients with cardiovascular disease who are from sea level and planning to come to elevation should slowly acclimatized themselves by staying in Denver for a day or two prior to going above 2500 m.  Patients who have stable heart complications should limit their physical activity for the first few days after ascending to elevation.

Hong Nguyen, PA-S

Physician Assistant Student

Red Rocks Community College



Bach, D. (n.d.). Altitude and the Heart: Is Going High Safe for Your Cardiac Patient? Retrieved March 28, 2017, from

Hurtado, A., Escudero, E., Pando, J., Sharma, S., & Johnson, R. J. (2012). Cardiovascular and renal effects of chronic exposure to high altitude. Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation, 27(Suppl 4), Iv11-Iv16. doi:10.1093/ndt/gfs427

J. Q. (n.d.). High elevation may be linked to visitor heart attach deaths. Summit Daily, pp. 1-4.

Concussions and Altitude

With the number of concussions on the rise it is important to have an understanding of the occurrence of concussions as well as the management of concussions at higher elevations. Although the incidence of concussions is on the rise everywhere, high school athletes playing at higher elevations may actually be less likely to sustain a concussion when compared to athletes playing the same sports at sea level.

The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital conducted a research study examining the relationship between concussions and altitude among NFL athletes. The results of the study demonstrated a 30% decrease in the incidence of concussions in athletes playing at higher elevations (greater than or equal to 644 ft above sea level) (Myer et al., 2014). While there is no definitive explanation for this it is believed to be linked to the physiological changes of the brain at altitude. Concussions are typically caused from the rapid acceleration/ deceleration of the brain inside the skull. The hypothesis is that at higher elevations the brain tends to swell due to a mild increase in intracranial volume creating a tighter fit of the brain in the skull, leading to less damage caused by sheer forces (Myer et al., 4014).

While concussions may not be as common at elevation they are still occurring more than ever with detrimental long term effects if not recognized and treated properly. One thing we can do to recognize and treat concussions is to complete an ImPACT test. ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is a computerized neurocognitive test which helps to assess neurologic changes after a concussion and helps guide recovery (Glendenning, 2017). The idea behind ImPACT is for individuals to have a baseline test, prior to any head injury/ concussion, and if a traumatic brain injury occurs, that individual would then undergo a post-concussion test, comparing the results to their baseline.  This helps better determine when it is safe for that individual to return to play without sustaining further injuries to their brain.

With the active lifestyle of children and adults in living at high altitudes, ImPACT testing may be just another step to consider when getting your bike tuned up for bike season, or your skis ready for a weekend on the slopes. Even if you aren’t a competitive athlete on a designated team, anyone at risk of hitting their head is at risk of suffering a concussion and would benefit from completing a baseline ImPACT test. ImPACT testing is available for only $15 at Avalanche Physical Therapy and takes only 30 minutes to complete (Glendenning, 2017). By being pro-active now you can help ensure a safer and healthier recovery in the future.

Schedule your baseline ImPACT testing at Avalanche Physical Therapy today!

Betsy Metz, PA-S

Physician Assistant Student

Red Rocks Community College


Glendenning, L. (2017, March 7). Cognitive testing tool used to assess traumatic brain injuries in Summit County. Summit Daily News, p. 5.

Myer, G. D., Smith, D., Barber Foss, K. D., Dicesare, C. A., Kiefer, A. W., Kushner, A. M., … & Khoury, J. C. (2014). Rates of concussion are lower in National Football League games played at higher altitudes. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 44(3), 164-172.

Does Hypoxia Prevent Cancer?

Summit Daily News recently published an article based on research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing Summit County                                                                                                       with the lowest cancer rate in the nation FOR 30 YEARS. Are people moving away when they get cancer? No, they are treated in Vail, Denver                                                                                                      and now the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.  Do we have fewer older people? No, there is a large percentage of retired residents.

The report shows stark differences in regional cancer death rates : detailed estimates for deaths from nearly 30 types of cancer in all 3,100 U.S. counties for over 35 years.From 1980 to 2014, the U.S. death rate per 100,000 people for all cancers combined dropped from about 240 to 192 — a 20 percent decline. More than 19 million Americans died from cancer during that time, the study found. Healthy lifestyle with low rates of obesity and smoking and increased physical activity contribute to low cancer rates in the mountains.

The picture was rosiest the Colorado ski country, where cancer deaths per 100,000 residents dropped by almost half, from 130 in 1980 to just 70 in 2014;

drugs and altitude:

Consensus by International Federation on Drug Use at High Altitude

New Rochelle, NY, October 25, 2016—Drug taking at high altitude is variably intended to enhance performance, prevent or alleviate the debilitating effects of altitude, or for pleasurable use. In some cases, certain drugs can be advantageous and even life-saving, but many drugs lack evidence of benefit and carry risks of side effects or interactions. The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) has published evidence-based guidelines advising on the safe use of alcohol, steroids, oxygen, erythropoietin, and many other types of drugs in mountain environments in an article in High Altitude Medicine & Biology, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The article is available free online on the High Altitude Medicine & Biology website.

An international team of researchers from Kuwait, Austria, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Nepal, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, led by David Hillebrandt, MB, BS, President, UIAA Medical Commission, coauthored the article entitled “Drug Use and Misuse in the Mountains: An UIAA MedCom-Consensus Guide for Medical Professionals.” They conducted an extensive review of the medical literature, trials, observational studies, and case series to assess the evidence available for drugs commonly used by mountain climbers. Their conclusions and recommendations cover a broad range of drug types including alcohol, anabolic agents such as androgenic steroids, adrenergic agonists, beta-blocking agents, erythropoietin, oxygen, glucocorticosteroids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants such as amphetamines.

“The use of drugs beyond those proven effective in preventing and treating high altitude illnesses remains very controversial among both physicians and climbers,” says Erik R. Swenson, MD, Editor-in-Chief of High Altitude Medicine & Biology and Professor, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Veterans Administration Puget Sound Healthcare System. “This broad and comprehensive review of the myriad drugs used for various purposes in climbing will be useful to all concerned in decision-making about their use, determining the level of supportive evidence, and importantly their potential costs and adverse effects.”

Red Cheeks in Mountain Kids

img_2010Chinese doctors presenting at the 7th World congress of Mountain and Wilderness Medicine in Telluride last month showed us a familiar photo. They called it Plateau Facial Persistence Erythema and we commonly see it here in Summit County. This rash occurs in women and children under conditions present at the plateau region at high altitude with cold and windy winter temperatures. It’s characteristics are erythemacheeksor redness, of the cheek prominences that is darkest in the center and can even look purple in color. The redness can spread in a spider-like pattern from the center with a gradual transition to normal-appearing skin. It is painless and often symmetrical. The cause of this rash is unclear but is thought to be related to changes at high altitudes affecting vasomotor nerve function, decreased capillary elasticity with persistent expansion, and increased blood viscosity secondary to increased hemoglobin. Children have delicate skin that may not adapt as easily to this extreme environment, causing the rash. Treatment primarily involves prevention by avoiding cold temperatures, windy areas, and UV radiation. In other countries these rosy red cheeks are not considered a disease, but rather a beautiful variant of normal!

High-Altitude Lung Edema Can Mimic Pneumonia in Kids, Even Without Travel by Rob Goodier

Dr. Chris has the medical community talking about HAPE!!!

“Health providers should advise patients who live at or travel to high altitude to have a pulse oximeter and check their oxygen levels if they are unwell,” the study’s author, Dr. Christine Ebert-Santos at the Ebert Family Clinic in Frisco, Colorado, told Reuters Health…

Click the link to read more:

High-Altitude Lung Edema Can Mimic Pneumonia in Kids, Even Without Travel by Rob Goodier

Those precious epi-pens at altitude

With all the news about the 400% price increase in epi-pens, we don’t want to waste them. So what if we are backpacking at high altitude and eat some peanut butter by mistake in our energy bar? Then our face swells up like a chipmunk and we start to wheeze? We whip out the epi-pen from the external pocket of our pack only to find out it is frozen!!  Oh, oh. What do we do now? Good news! at the 7th World Congress of Mountain and Wilderness Medicine in Telluride we heard the exact scenario described. It happened to a scientist, who then did a study to measure the effectiveness of the epi-pen after freezing and thawing. It still worked! So don’t throw out your frozen epinephrine. thaw and use.

Another tip: if you can’t afford the new price of the epi-pen, maybe your physician could prescribe injectable epi with a syringe to have on hand.

Reflection to MRHAPE in the Mountains: Resident High Altitude Pulmonary Edema

In beginning my Physician Assistant rotation at Ebert Family Clinic I was introduced to the exciting research of Christine Ebert-Santos, MD.  The research surrounded a condition known as High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE). In growing up at altitude myself, at 6,926 feet in Jamestown Colorado, I have had some exposure to the effects of high altitude. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is a condition that I am more familiar with and in reading Dr. Ebert-Santos’ research it became clear to me that HAPE is a more severe complication to those ascending to or living at altitude, especially if they develop an initial respiratory illness. In her paper Dr. Ebert-Santos describes several pediatric case studies that demonstrate the characteristics of this treatable condition. These patients presented with tachycardia (fast heart rate), tachypnea (fast breathing), decreased oxygen saturation, and rales (abnormal breath sound).  Many of the children described were seen directly after an initiating illness such as the Flu. While seen in the clinic, or during admission to the hospital, these patients were treated with oxygen. The fact that HAPE can be treated with something as simple as oxygen is noteworthy.

Through her research Dr. Ebert-Santos has demonstrated that HAPE should be considered in all pediatric patients presenting to clinics  or emergency rooms at altitude with hypoxia (decreased oxygen saturation) and a recent viral illness. Through placing HAPE in their differential diagnosis, clinicians can avoid giving excessive inhaled steroid treatments and unneeded antibiotics. Awareness of the prevalence of this disease in both travelers and residents alike ensures a decrease in the incidence of unfavorable outcomes from this potentially fatal condition.

Submitted by Kelly Kyte, Physicians Assistant Student from Red Rocks Community College Fall Rotation 2016

Information and discussion for visitors and residents in the mountains