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In modern cities, it can be hard to escape air pollution. It’s virtually everywhere, from car soot to chemicals. As a parent, you’ll wonder what effect this has on your children and yourself. After all, they’re probably more susceptible than us.
To what extent is exposure to air pollution harmful for kids, and how can you minimise its negative effects? Can it lead to serious illnesses?
Read on to find the answers to these questions and learn more about ways to keep your kids safe from the potential health issues created by inhaling polluted air.
What kinds of Air Pollution Are There?
- What kinds of Air Pollution Are There?
- Are Kids More at Risk of Air Pollution?
- Which Areas Have the Most Air Pollution?
- How to Protect Kids From Air Pollution Outside
- How to Protect Kids From Air Pollution Indoors
Before you get lost in all the ways you can combat air pollution, let’s first take a look at the different types you’ll come across:
Particulate matter is a composition of tiny particles that roam the air. They can be solid particles like dust, carbon, nitrates, or sulphates. They can also be liquid particles, like water.
These particles can come in a variety of sizes. Some are large enough and dark to be visible, like dirt and smoke. However, the most potent particulate matter pollutants are often those that can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Natural sources of particulate include pollen and sea spray. Meanwhile, man-made causes of particulate matter include construction and industrial work, diesel and petrol engines, and dust emanating from roads being broken down.
Nitrogen dioxide gas is a staple of urban air pollution. It gets into the air through the emissions of vehicles and power plants. Yet, diesel engines are the biggest issue when it comes to nitrogen dioxide emissions.
High concentrations of this gas can cause respiratory irritation, leading to symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and laboured breathing. Those with asthma are particularly susceptible to these side effects.
It can also lead to further complications in kids and older people in the form of a respiratory infection and an increased sensitivity to allergens.
Ozone is best known for its role as an atmospheric layer that absorbs dangerous ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun’s rays. What isn’t common knowledge is that it can also be an air pollutant.
It can cause respiratory irritation in people with pre-existing lung conditions, as well as in healthy individuals. The presence of too much ozone in the air can reduce the lung capacity to diminish and trigger asthma attacks.
Known for its distinct and pungent odour, sulphur dioxide is a colourless air-polluting gas produced by burning fossil fuels. Vehicles and power plants that use oil and coal, respectively, are the primary culprits for sulphur dioxide emissions.
It’s an irritant for the nose, lungs, and throat, causing chest tightness and coughing. It can also reduce the airflow to the lungs by reducing the width of the airways. The Inflammation induced by inhaling sulphur dioxide also leads to excess mucus.
Are Kids More at Risk of Air Pollution?
Air pollution is bad for our health. That much we know, but it’s even worse for kids.
Their Lungs Are Still Developing
As with any body part, the majority of a child’s lungs develop after birth. Around 80% of a child’s alveoli (the air sacs where oxygen is transferred into the blood) develop after birth. Both the alveoli and the lungs as a whole don’t become fully developed until adulthood.
They Have Weaker Immune Systems
Another reason air pollution has a greater effect on kids is the fact that their immune systems are still developing. They have weaker defences against respiratory infections than adults do. Therefore, they’re more exposed to the potential harms of air pollution.
Behavioural Factors Come Into Play
The behavioural patterns of kids are significantly different from those of adults. They usually spend much more time outdoors when they’re highly active and breathing in greater quantities of the polluted air.
Which Areas Have the Most Air Pollution?
According to the WHO Ambient Air Quality Database published in 2018, certain cities have more air pollution than others.
The average level of pollution in the UK is PM 2.5, but here’s a list of the areas that have it worse:
- Warrington: 14 µg/㎥
- Bristol: 13 µg/㎥
- Stanford-le-hope: 13 µg/㎥
- Storrington: 13 µg/㎥
- Swansea: 13 µg/㎥
To put these numbers into perspective, it should be noted that all of the cities mentioned above have higher particulate matter concentrations than London.
This should give you a clear idea of how polluted these cities’ air is, as London is notorious for its level of pollution. So, that’s saying something!
How to Protect Kids From Air Pollution Outside
If you live in an area in which the air is highly polluted, protecting your child from the hazards of such pollution can be a tall task. However, there are some measures you can take to minimize your child’s exposure to air pollution.
- Stay clear of busy highways and roads when taking a walk with your child
- If air pollution is especially high on a certain day, minimise your child’s time outdoors
- Keep in mind that even when the forecast predicts good air quality, areas around busy roads (within a 500m radius) can still be highly polluted
- If you’re outside and start coughing and/or wheezing, don’t let your child outdoors
- Stay clear of places where the residents burn wood or rubbish
How to Protect Kids From Air Pollution Indoors
When we think of air pollution, it’s often outdoor air that comes to mind. However, air pollution is also an issue within the confines of the household.
Here are some ways to improve your home’s air quality and protect your child from air pollution.
- Use organic cotton dust-mite-proof casings for pillows and mattresses
- Maintain air humidity at less than 50% to curb the growth of mould
- Use an air purifier to decrease the level of air pollutants in your home
- Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows around the house, especially when you introduce new furniture to the house
- Place air-purifying houseplants such as bamboo palms and spider plants in your home
During childhood, the lungs and immune systems aren’t yet fully developed. That’s what makes exposure to air pollution harmful for kids and even more malicious than it is for us.
There are several ways to protect your child from air pollution, both indoors and outdoors. So, let your kids enjoy their time, but take some precautionary measures to keep them safe and healthy.