Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO) says that “polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives … every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfill their full potential.” Children are especially susceptible to the negative impacts of air pollution, but there are solutions and preventative measures you can take to minimize its impact. Read below to learn more!
Exposure to air pollution has a negative impact on the neurodevelopment of infants and children. This is the brain’s development of neurological pathways that help the brain function normally. Most basic human functions and motor skills are attributed to neurodevelopment, and both genetics and external factors, such as the child’s environment, can impact their neurodevelopment.
Studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants from wildfires, burning fossil fuels, and more lead to impaired neurodevelopment. Prolonged exposure can even cause diseases such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) while attributing to memory deficiencies.
Exposure to air pollution is also detrimental to the lung development of your child. Children’s airways and lungs are smaller and still developing, and the prolonged exposure to harmful airborne toxins and materials can stunt this growth.
Children spend more time outside adults, whether playing outside at school recess or out in a neighborhood. Pollution levels are higher in the summer months and in the afternoons, which is the most common time for children to be outdoors. They are also likely exerting themselves, meaning that their body will require more oxygen. This means they will be breathing heavier and increasing their intake of harmful airborne pollutants.
Children also breathe through their mouths more frequently than adults, meaning that the air avoids nasal filters and gets directly ingested into the lungs.
Compromised Immune System
Air pollution exposure has been shown to negatively impact the immune systems of infants and children. Researchers in California have found that air pollution exposure suppresses regulatory T (treg) cells. These cells control the immune system’s response to particles that are both foreign and natural, which, in turn, helps prevent certain diseases. Suppressed T cells limit the body’s ability to fight off infection in both the short and long term. This is especially damaging for children, as their immune systems are still developing and they are more prone to sickness.
The compromised immune system caused by air pollution has also been linked to many different chronic diseases. Chronic diseases are characterized as illnesses or conditions that persist one year or longer. They often require frequent medical treatments and appointments while impacting one’s day-to-day life. Lung and other types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have all been linked to air pollution.
Children who are exposed to air pollution at a young age are at a higher risk of developing asthma. Asthma is the swelling and narrowing of airways in the lungs that makes breathing difficult. With over twenty million people and six million children suffering from asthma, it is one of the most common chronic illnesses today. Symptoms of an asthma attack include chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and more. Minor symptoms of an asthma attack can be alleviated with an inhaler, but severe cases require medical attention.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by sources of air pollution such as dust, smoke, ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides. Frequent prolonged exposure to these harmful airborne materials puts young children at a higher risk of developing asthma. It also will intensify and worsen the symptoms of asthma attacks, which hinders their day-to-day lives.
How Can I Keep My Child Safe from Air Pollution?
There are several simple ways to minimize the risk of health problems caused by air pollution. You can start by monitoring your child’s outdoor time. You can look up the current outdoor air quality online or via smartphone, and you should not let your child play outside if it is deemed hazardous or harmful.
Another way is by making sure your indoor air quality is high. This will provide your children with a safe environment while they are not outside and exposed to air pollution. Keeping a clean home, regularly testing for harmful materials such as radon and carbon monoxide, and not smoking indoors are some of the many ways to increase your home’s air quality.
One specific way to increase your home’s indoor air quality is by ditching your central-ducted HVAC system and installing a ductless mini split. The ductwork of an older central HVAC system harbors dust, dirt, debris, and other allergens. During operation, it will spread these airborne particles throughout the house and decrease your indoor air quality. In severe cases, it can replicate the uncomfortable outdoor environment caused by air pollution.
Fortunately, mini splits eliminate this problem since they do not require any ductwork. Ductless mini splits are a highly efficient HVAC system that features an outdoor condenser connected to one or more indoor air handling units. Mini splits also improve your home’s air quality during use by doubling as air filters, purifiers, and dehumidifiers.
Be sure to check the instruction manual of your mini split, as filters require simple maintenance and replacement every so often. They can remove harmful airborne materials, to create a more comfortable and healthy indoor environment for your child.
There are also ways to try to minimize or reduce your contribution to air pollution. Do not burn waste and promote a healthier community by walking or using public transportation when applicable. You could also support local “green” initiatives. All of these simple steps will go a long way toward keeping your child safe from air pollution in both the short and long term.