It is an indisputable fact that air pollution is harmful to the lungs. Unlike adults, infants and children’s lungs are not fully developed and this makes them especially vulnerable to air pollution. Exposure to air pollution begins harming children’s lung function even before they are born, during their childhood and it continues all the way to the late teens.

It has also been found that pregnant mothers who are exposed to polluted air are more likely to give birth prematurely (before the conventional nine months) to smaller children with lower birth weights.

In children who have asthma, exposure to high levels of air pollution has been known to increase asthma attacks.

Apart from children’s lungs, air pollution can also have devastating consequences for their neurodevelopment and cognitive abilities, trigger asthma, and even childhood cancer. Children who are constantly exposed to poor air quality are also at further risk of developing cardiovascular disease later on in life. Wheezing and coughing become normal, and there is also a chance of children getting lung cancer when they’re older along with other respiratory ailments like pneumonia.

Why are children more vulnerable?

Apart from their yet-to-be-developed lungs, another reason why children are more likely to suffer the ill effects of air pollution is the fact that they breathe quicker than adults and in doing so absorb more pollutants, this is similar to exercising in polluted air.

Some air pollutants reach peak concentration closer to the ground both outdoors and indoors by way of car exhausts, cigarette smoke etc. Infants are exposed to this as their bodies continue to develop, a time when they are being carried around in their prams,

Indoor air quality and children’s health are also related. Air pollutants enter homes, causing household air pollution in homes; newborns and young children are more susceptible to this pollution which is caused by using polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting

It is clear that air pollution is affecting children’s health in more ways than one way but there are solutions available to reduce emissions through implementing health-wise policy measures like moving to clean cooking and heating fuels, promoting public transport, renewable electricity that is not generated by burning coal, use of single-use plastic, electric cars, energy-efficient housing, urban planning with foresight, cleaner, safer industrial technologies and more responsive and sustainable waste management. All of these changes can be brought about by spreading awareness among people, having collective demands of the state, and holding it accountable.

Here are some startling facts from the WHO’s findings which states about air pollution and kids' health:

  • Air pollution damaged children’s lung function and airway development even at lower levels of exposure, this means pollutants are hazardous, no matter the quantity.
  • Air pollution does affect neurodevelopment, causing lower cognitive development Vis a Vis test outcomes, while also adversely affecting mental and motor development.
  • In low-income countries like India, 98% of all children under the age of 5 are exposed to hazardous PM 2.5 levels, in Delhi this is of course; 100% of all kids of all ages.
  • Almost 600’000 children under the age of 15 lost their lives to the combined effects of ambient and household air pollution in 2016 worldwide.
  • Household air pollution causes over 50% of all acute lower respiratory infections in children under the age of 5 in countries like India.
  • Today, air pollution is a leading threat to child health, and accounts for about 1 in 10 deaths in children under the age of five.

What can I do to protect my child from air pollution?

Concerned parents can take a few steps to reduce the adverse impact of air pollution on children’s health. First of all, this can become very worrisome but you can protect your children. If you’re thinking of moving out of the city, it is the most practical answer, but it may not be possible. Many studies on air pollution and children’s respiratory health have been done and suggest some of the points given below reduce the adverse affect of air pollution on children’s lung function:

  • Stop smoking during pregnancy; make sure your children are not close to cigarette smoke after they are born by avoiding smoky environments.
  • Try and walk around the neighbourhood with your child instead of driving if you can. Avoid busy streets as exposure to air pollution can be much worse there, especially inside cars going through traffic.
  • Recognise pollution hotspots and avoid passing by if you’re taking, crossing them regularly, don’t exercise near them for sure and avoid the worst pollution by going through less crowded roads. Even walking on the sidewalk pavement well away from the road during busy times can help.
  • Ventilate and keep your homes well-aired. Open windows between 11 am to 3 pm
  • Avoid using harmful fuel for cooking.
  • Try and invest in an air purifier.
  • Reduce the amount of chemicals used in household activities.
  • Make your kids eat a healthy balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables and lean protein, this will build immunity and keep everyone healthy in the family.
  • Get your kids to exercise daily as it builds up their respiratory and cardiovascular health. Best time for outdoor is between 11 am to 3 pm as pollution level is lowest in the period.

If you have any queries related to air pollution and infant health, book an appointment at Aakash Healthcare and get consulted by our expert clinicians.

Also Read: How to Care for a Newborn?


with Dr. Syed Hasan


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