Respiratory ailments in children due to Air Pollution
After Diwali, lots of children are coming in clinic with breathing problems, wheeze, cough and pneumonia. The main reason for this rise in incidence is air pollution. Air pollution is not the leading cause of death or morbidity in children in the developed world. However, there is increasingly strong evidence that air pollution is associated with non trivial increase in the risk of death and chronic disease in children, worse pregnancy outcomes and exacerbation of illnesses.
Children’s exposure to air pollution is a special concern because their immune system and lungs are not fully developed when exposure begins, raising the possibility of different responses that is seen in adults.
In addition, children spend more time outside, where the concentrations of pollution from traffic, power plants and other combustion sources are generally higher. Although air pollution has long been thought to exacerbate minor acute illnesses, recent studies have suggested that air pollution, particularly traffic-related pollution and fireworks are associated with the development of asthma and atopy, which causes different sorts of chest symptoms and rashes.
There is definite association of particulate air pollution with acute bronchitis in children and studies have demonstrated that rates of bronchitis and chronic cough declined in areas where particle concentrations have fallen. Overall, evidence for effects of air pollution on children has been growing and effects are seen at concentrations that are common today. That is why city children suffer from breathing illness and asthma much more than village children.
Almost 300 million children around the world are exposed to toxic levels of outdoor air pollution and those growing up in low and middle income countries are most at risk, according to a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report relied on satellite imagery to identify the locations of outdoor pollution levels greater than the World Health Organization’s global guidelines. The data show that about 2 billion children live in areas with hazardous levels of air pollution from such sources as vehicle emissions, dust, burning of waste and heavy fossil fuel use. Some 300 million breathe air that exceeds the recommended limit by at least 6 times. The problem is most severe in South Asia and Africa, which have the highest numbers of children—620 million and 520 million, respectively—living in areas where pollution exceeds these guidelines. Outdoor air pollution is worst in low-income urban communities.
We all know what happened in Delhi recently, where all schools had to be closed because of air pollution and fog! We must understand that air pollution is no longer something written in the books and discussed in seminars. It is real, just like the heat and humidity of our summer or the chills of our winter. And of course, it is much more dangerous than either the heat or the chill! All of us must be aware of it and do our bit to contain it, if not for ourselves then at least for our children, who are going to inherit this Earth from us!