How air pollution affects your child

Megha Chawla
3 to 7 years

Created by Megha Chawla
Updated on May 31, 2022

How air pollution affects your child
Reviewed by Expert panel

I live in the ‘millennium city’ called Gurgaon which is in grip of deadly air pollution because of it being the business and construction hub. 
So, I started reading up on everyday things I can do to reduce air pollution and improve air quality especially at home as we can’t do much about the outdoor. Here’s what I found most relevant

Air pollution has many effects on health of both adults and children. Over the past several years incidence of a number of diseases has increased greatly, especially in metro cities. Asthma is perhaps the most common disease now followed by allergic reactions, bronchitis and respiratory infections. Pregnant women and children are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution than anyone.

Why are children at a greater risk than adults from air pollution?
•    A child’s lungs and immune system are immature at birth and continue to develop till the teens. The developing organs are more sensitive to the toxic effects of air pollutants and other toxins therefore children tend to absorb pollutants more readily and retain them in the body for a longer period of time
•    The thin cell layer inside their respiratory tract which is still developing easily allows everything to pass by
•    Children also have a larger lung surface area in relation to their body weight and breathe 50% more air per pound of body weight.
•    Children breathe at a higher rate than adults
•    Children breathe through their mouths more than from nose which can filter particulates from reaching the lungs.
•    Children tend to spend more time outdoors (school, playgrounds) where the concentration of pollution from traffic and other sources are generally higher  which results in their breathing more outdoor air compared to adults.

Which air pollutants have the greatest impact on the health of children?

‘Criteria’ air pollutants- The most widespread ones are particulate matter (PM) and Ozone.

Fine Particulate Matter 2.5 PM- comes from a variety of sources such as diesel engines, smoke from forest, agricultural fires and dust from construction sites. These can easily bypass our body’s natural defense mechanism and go deep into the lungs. PM causes cough, respiratory problems and makes asthma worse. Recent studies show that prolonged exposure to PM may also affect growth and functioning of children’s lungs.

 Ground level Ozone- Also known as O3, this is formed by chemical reactions involving sunlight and various gases emitted from vehicles, industries and factories. Ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant that can cause lung inflammation, shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, cough and asthma. Prolonged exposure can also lead to mal-functioning of the lung.

Other criteria pollutants include nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead and sulfur dioxide. All these are released into the air whenever we use fuel such as oil, gas, diesel, wood or coal.

What are the effects of air pollution on children’s health and development?
•    Air pollution increases a child’s risk of getting sick by reducing the respiratory system’s ability to fight infection and remove foreign particles.
•    Make asthma symptoms worse
•    Increase respiratory infections
•    Decrease lung function
•    Make children more sensitive to allergens

What can we do to reduce the effect of air pollution on children’s health?

At home
1.  Keep the house floor fresh- Mop twice if possible, rigorous mopping with disinfectants can pick up the dust and allergens.
2. Door mats- Put a large and good quality door mat at the main entrance and also at the door of every room. A door mat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants
3. Consider removing shoes at the door to minimize dust and dirt tracked in from the outdoors.
4. Limit the use of carpets and rugs, especially in your child’s room as they trap dirt.
5.  Install blinds rather than curtains as they attract less dirt
6. Dust with a damp cloth rather than a feather duster -- and don't forget hard-to-reach areas such as ceiling fans and the top of the refrigerator
7. Keep a healthy level of humidity at home- Dust mites love moisture. Controlling humidity can keep dust and other allergens at bay.

Here’s how you can dehumidify your home- Use an exhaust fan when cooking.
Never overwater houseplants. Never dry clothes indoor. Fix leaky taps. Empty the air conditioner drip pans
8. Limit synthetic fragrances at home- Laundry detergents, fabric softeners, air fresheners, hair sprays and deodorants emit dozens of harmful chemicals in the air. Instead opt for fragrance- free products or naturally scented products.
9 .Wash pillow covers, bed sheets and comforters regularly to reduce exposure to allergens.
10. Make your home a No-smoking zone- Avoid smoking indoors. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of indoor pollutants at high concentrations.
11.Invest in Indoor plants- These are living air purifiers that absorb lot of chemical pollutants. Some of the plants that help in air purification are Money plant, Aloe Vera, Bamboo palm, Areca palm, Rubber tree, Spider plant, Date Palm and English Ivy
12.Himalayan salt lamps- These are lamps made of large pieces of Himalayan salt with a small bulb inside, these lamps help in improving indoor air quality and reducing allergens.

 Buy smart
•    Update home appliances and air conditioners with low energy models
•    Turn lights off and use low energy bulbs.
•    When purchasing a vehicle, select a fuel efficient model
•    Choose products that have less packaging and are reusable

Tips for children
•    If possible schedule all outdoor activities early morning.
•    Avoid peak rush hour times and high traffic areas (when pollution levels are highest)
•    Plan activities or play dates indoors in a cool, well ventilated area.
•    Include breathing exercises in your child’s schedule
•    Monitor vitamin D levels regularly
•    Follow vaccination schedules for your child and avoid missing them 

Nutrition tips that can help children
•    Including  high-protein diet
•    Moderate fats and carbohydrates
•    Limit salt intake
•    Adequate fluids for children
•    Multivitamin, calcium supplements ( To be taken with consultation of a pediatrician)
•    Avoid gas forming foods

This content has been checked & validated by Doctors and Experts of the parentune Expert panel. Our panel consists of Neonatologist, Gynecologist, Peadiatrician, Nutritionist, Child Counselor, Education & Learning Expert, Physiotherapist, Learning disability Expert and Developmental Pead.

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| Jan 02, 2017

thanks for sharing this with us... actually my baby is suffering from cough very frequently

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| Jan 02, 2017

Very well explained... Thanks a lot for your suggestions. We will follow it with care ...

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| Jan 02, 2017

good article,my son having this problem v have heavy traffic

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| Jan 02, 2017

very true

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| Jan 05, 2017

A very nice article,. even my daughter had similar problem s when we were staying in delhi which was due to smog . Her condition improved after we shifted to the other city. a nd whatever has been suggested actually works as I did the same things.... keep away the following things from your house 1 arosole that's in deodorants 2. strong smells eg perfumes 3. incense sticks that's agarbatti, dhoop batti in pooja 4. passive smoke from cigarette 5. carpets , rugs etc 6. pets if your child is allergic to pets 7. vegetation in and around house , flowers , or during Pollan's season.. your child can be allergic to any of above mentioned things may be one or more... so find out the source and get rid of it immediately. steaming. with plain water is very good .and saline nasal drop can be given when u yourself feel irritation in your nose..... stay blessed have a healthy life.

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| Jan 24, 2017

this article is very good and has to be implemented especially if you have children. It is very painful to see kids with running nose and difficulty in breathing.

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| Oct 09, 2018

Very useful article

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| Nov 06, 2018

your are right carry on

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| Oct 04, 2021

A child’s lungs and immune system are immature at birth and continue to develop till the teens. - Brick Masonry

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