Air Pollution and Children’s Health

While air pollution can affect anyone at any age, children are without a doubt the most vulnerable. Air pollution of all varieties can significantly harm the overall health and well-being of children, causing damage that can last well into adulthood.

Whether or not you have children of your own, you should be aware of the hazards that children face when they are exposed to poor air quality. With the right knowledge, you can do your part to maintain the health and happiness of children in your home, your country, and all over the globe!
children playing outdoors

Outdoor Air Pollution: Is It Dangerous to Children?

Everyone can be impacted by air pollution, but science shows us that children are by far the most vulnerable to this problem. According to a 2016 CNN report, which focused on information from UNICEF, roughly 600,000 children under the age of five die every year from diseases that are either caused or worsened by air pollution. The report states that the estimates include both indoor and outdoor air pollution, and about two billion children worldwide live in areas that have outdoor levels exceeding WHO standards. These children live in predominantly low- and middle-income areas.

It’s not just children who are vulnerable either, as new information shows that fetuses may be in danger when the mother is exposed to air pollution. Prolonged exposure to high levels of particulate matter may be to blame for fetal loss, premature births, and lower birth rates.

In the United States and other developing countries, there is also a childhood obesity issue connected to poor air quality. While it might seem odd to talk about overweight children in an article that focuses on air pollution, research from the University of Southern California shows that air pollution may be causing higher obesity rates. The study found that children who have asthma are 51% more likely to develop obesity. It also found that children with asthma who used an inhaler during an asthma attack were 43% less likely to be obese.

Poor air quality can also have an impact at school. Although a report from the EPA does not necessarily explain why, it says that poor air quality at school can increase absences and lower the level of mental concentration, making it more difficult for teachers to perform their important work while also creating challenges for administrators.

child coughing

Why Are Children Vulnerable?

Why are children facing these significant problems?

Why are they so severely affected by air pollution?

It has to do with the size of children’s bodies and the developmental path of humans.

An article from the American Academy of Pediatrics provides insight as to why children suffer so much when exposed to air pollution. According to a study cited in the article, when a child is born they only have 20% of their alveoli, while the remaining 80% are formed after birth. Alveoli are the tiny sacs in the lungs that allow for gaseous exchange between the lungs and the blood stream. Essentially, they are the last spot before oxygen is pumped from the lungs to the bloodstream. Development of the alveoli is still taking place at birth and will continue to take place for years. However, during the time directly after birth, the development is particularly susceptible to damage.

There is also increased danger from outdoor air pollution due to the general nature of childhood. Children, compared to adults, spend more time outside playing, increasing exposure to harmful outdoor chemicals, such as smoke, car exhaust, and industrial pollution. Because of more time outside, as well as their physical anatomy, children are more vulnerable to the harms of “criteria air pollutants,” a group classified by the EPA to include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and more.

For these reasons and more, it’s crucial that everyone does their part to control outdoor air pollution and reduce symptoms among vulnerable children.

Common Respiratory Conditions and Illnesses in Children

There are many different respiratory diseases that can impact children, which makes it more difficult for parents to monitor and understand what conditions are affecting a child. While specific diagnosis must be done by a trained physician, these are a few of the most common respiratory conditions that impact kids.

Asthma

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 8.4% of children have asthma. Asthma is marked by a tightening of the airways between the mouth and the lungs, making it extremely difficult for children to breath. Asthma attacks can be triggered by rigorous activity, but they also can be caused by dense amounts of air pollution, such as dust, smoke, or pollen.

Bronchitis

RSV is a type of viral infection that can lead to bronchitis, which often affects children under the age of two. This condition can create wheezing and coughing that lasts as long as seven days, and over 30% of the children who suffer from the condition are at risk of developing chronic bronchitis or asthma.

Allergies

Although allergies can come in many forms, such as food allergies, children are vulnerable to allergic rhinitis, which are allergies to airborne substance. Allergic rhinitis often causes problems in the nose, mouth, skin, and eyes, but if the allergen makes it to the lungs, it can create serious problems for children, due especially to the vulnerable nature of their bodies.

Influenza and Colds

While they may not be considered diseases caused by air pollution, the common cold and influenza can cause significant harm to a child’s lungs, at least temporarily. There is also significant concern that air pollution could have an effect on respiratory diseases.

Protecting Children from Air Pollution

It can be difficult to maintain clean air for your children at all times, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. There are many steps you can take, but generally you will find that protecting from air pollution and maintaining overall air quality falls into two areas: outdoor and indoor air.

Protecting Children Outdoor Air Pollution

Outdoor air can be difficult because you have very little control over the particles and contaminants found outside. Indoors, you at least have some control, but outside you can’t do a lot to directly change the quality of the air. This means you need to monitor outdoor air quality and make decisions based on this information.

Check the outdoor air quality using AirNow.gov and you will have the information you need. When outdoor air pollution is high, limit your children’s outdoor activity and don’t allow too much exertion, which will cause them to pull in more air and with it more air pollution. Understand that poor air quality often peaks around mid-afternoon and early evening, so try to limit outdoor play during these hours.

Pay attention to how your children are playing and know the signs of respiratory discomfort. Children are often so caught up in play that they won’t tell you if something is wrong. Symptoms of respiratory problems include wheezing, trouble breathing, and coughing.

If needed, have indoor options available and consider bringing the children indoors. If air is particularly bad, you can take them to a local gym or indoor recreational center, which will ensure they get the exercise they need without harming their vulnerable lungs.

Indoor Air Quality

Providing clean indoor air can be just as important. One of the most basic steps you can take to maintain clean air is to continually clean and dust your home. Dust is one of the most common indoor air pollutants, but it’s also one of the easiest to remove; it just takes diligence. Weekly dusting with a damp rag, regular vacuuming, and reduced clutter in the home can all help you manage everyday house dust.

Maintaining balanced humidity in the home can also help with air quality. When humidity levels are between 30% to 50%, you reduce the chance of mold growth, which thrives in damp, low-light areas, such as basements and under sinks. Mold releases spores, which can cause respiratory problems, especially for people who have pre-existing respiratory illnesses.

While air fresheners, such as sprays and synthetic fragrances can smell nice, these products can create issues for overall health. These products are often loaded with Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC’s, which can cause respiratory problems. Instead of fake fragrances, use natural scents like lemon slices to give the home a fresh smell.

A plant in the home is a natural way to improve indoor air quality. As plants take in air, they have been proven to trap airborne chemicals and are now believed to be an effective way to remove many of the smallest particles in the atmosphere.

Finally, you can add an air purifier to your home. Air purifiers that have HEPA filters and activated carbon can remove a high percentage of dust, pollen, allergens, and airborne chemicals, giving you and your family fresh indoor air.

High-Quality Air Purifiers for Your Home

If you want to create a healthy environment for your children, consider an Oransi air purifier for your home. With HEPA filters and activated carbon, these filter can help you control dust, pollen, and indoor air pollutants in your home.

We have products for large and small rooms, so check out our full selection today or contact our team for more information.