That dreadful time of the year is back - Air pollution raises chronic cough and wheezing in children
Only a few days before the much awaited festival of India- Diwali; while rest of the children are waiting eagerly for its arrival, Priyanka Guha Roy- mother of a 3 year old son is mostly staying indoors in fear of allergies, coughing, and wheezing.
“My son had been coughing and wheezing constantly for almost 2 weeks. No amount of medication, puffs or syrups were helping. When I visited the paediatrician, she said that my son suffers from acute bronchitis. I was shocked as I did not understand the reason behind it. The doctor then said that the main reason was the increasing air pollution. This was last year. The conditions have not improved but gotten worse. This year, just a week before Diwali and my son has already started coughing and is on medications again. I don’t want to give so many medicines to my otherwise healthy son, but I am scared that he might develop something serious- like Asthma!” says a very concerned mother.
Ambient Air Pollution triggers wheezing in children below 3 years.
A study conducted by Thorax, Copenhagen University. The study concluded that Air pollution related to traffic is significantly associated with triggering wheezing symptoms in the first 3 years of an infant’s life. Air pollution affects children’s lungs. When we breathe in dirty air, we bring in the pollutants deep inside our lungs. These pollutants negatively harm the lung development process. This creates an additional risk of developing lung diseases later in life. Pollution is not just the air we breathe in when we go out, but it is also the air indoors. But because of the harmful air today, many children have nowhere to go but stay indoors. Allergies, Bronchitis, Asthma, Wheezing are all serious breathing problems that are on the rise.
“We have many cases of persistent coughing, wheezing and Childhood Asthma and it is on the rise day by day. Festival season is the peak season of air pollution. Some parents do not understand when the child starts having coughing bouts or wheezing. They try to give the common cold and cough medicines and only rush to us if it gets worse. In such cases the children are sometimes admitted to hospitals and given proper treatment. Then we have to put patients on antibiotics and nebulisers. Though childhood asthma grows out after the age of 11-12 years, it is very tough for parents to deal with the present situations”, says Dr. Deepti, Sr. Paediatrician of a Hospital in Sonepat.
Festivals are not the only ones to be blamed for bad air quality. The annual burning of the paddy stubbles around Punjab, Haryana and other Indian states, adds to the pollution level which ultimately leads to wheezing in children. Not to forget the already existing pollution due to vehicles and heavy traffic. This causes a layer of smog in the air which then becomes dense with other causes of pollution. The rising unhealthy air quality causes a surge in the number of patients complaining about cough, cold, congestion and other respiratory problems. The worst affected are children below 15 years of age and the elderly. Most office goers get stuck in traffic and they develop respiratory problems. So, respiratory diseases are also on the rise in the younger and middle aged generations. In children the symptoms of a respiratory disease are breathlessness, persistent coughing, heavy sneezing and runny nose, fatigue and difficulty in gaining weight.
Air pollution and the lungs
One study has shown that if a baby is exposed to air pollution in the womb, it can alter the development of the baby’s lungs. Having an unborn baby exposed to a lot of pollution can also result in premature birth and low birth weight. After the child is born, children are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults because their lungs are still growing and they breathe in more air than adults. Children have more respiratory infections than adults which increases their susceptibility to air pollution.
The Southern California children’s Health conducted a study in which they found out that those children who grew up in more polluted areas face the risk of reduced lung growth which may never recover to full capacity. The lung functions drops drastically and is similar to the drop that affects a child growing up in a home of smokers. Air pollutants such a sulphates, nitrates and black carbon force their way into the developing lungs of children resulting in decreased quality of life and increased mortality rates. A recent study by a senior pulmonologist has revealed that the air in metropolitan cities and big cities in India is resulting in rising incidence of chronic cough and wheezing in children. Air pollution is to be blamed for 21% of chronic cough cases in children below the age of 18 years. A chronic cough is one that persists for more than 2 weeks and is accompanied by wheezing. Rising levels of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) in the air is the reason for chronic coughs in children who are mostly stuck in traffic while commuting from home to school and back. Children lose their health due to this; they fail to sleep properly at night and are not able to focus on their studies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that over 3 million premature deaths around the world each years is due to exposure to outdoor pollution. A 6 year study by researchers at Kings college, London finds that children living in highly polluted parts of the cities have up to 10 percent less lung capacity than normal, with warnings that the damage could be permanent. Pollutants cause lung inflammation with tests showing black carbon from diesel exhaust emissions inside children’s lung cells.
Precautions and remedies
Air pollution cannot be altered until severe measures are taken but we can try some remedies to lessen the effects of pollution and reduce wheezing in children.
#1. Air Purifiers
We think that pollution is only outside but not inside our offices and schools or homes. In fact the air inside our homes are as much polluted and puts our children at an equal risk. A good air purifier can be helpful to remove harmful air particles and improve the quality of air indoors. Air pollution particles can sneak into our homes and cause skin diseases like eczema, rashes and other skin ailments. Air purifiers can capture these particles before they can attack your skin.
#2. Wearing air pollution masks
Studies have shown that wearing an N95 mask does help in reducing the unhealthy effects of air pollution. It is impossible to stay at home at all times. An N95 or above masks are a must buy this season, especially if your child is suffering from wheezing issues. N95 masks are cost-effective and allow one to breathe easily. “I am expecting my second baby soon and I do not want my baby’s health or my health to suffer due to pollution. My first baby is 2 years old and both of us have started wearing an air pollution mask, especially when we are outside, even if we go to the park in the evening,” says Megha a resident of Delhi. One of the highly recommended masks is the Dettol Siti Shield mask which is effective in filtering 98% of airborne particles, harmful pollutants and up to 99% of bacteria.
#3. No Early morning walks
As pollution returns to alarming levels, going out for early morning walks or run could be fatal. The tiny particles that can enter the lungs and other toxic gases are highest at body-level in the mornings. You may have noticed that the air seems clearer when the sun is out and blazing, rather than the smogy early mornings. So if walk, you must , then try at a normal pace when you get adequate sunlight.
#4. Plant more trees
Indoor plants are the best when it comes to improving air qualities inside your homes. Indoor plants like the bamboo, rubber, areca palm and other indoor plants provide as valuable weapons against harmful air pollutants. They absorb harmful gases and clean the air inside our homes and offices..
#5. Add some humidity in your homes
A steamy bath or shower can help your child breathe with ease. A humidifier in the room at nights can keep a control on the humidity level. Dust is very common at homes now. There is dust in exhaust fans, carpets, doors and windows which is the accumulation of dust from the air outside. This needs to be kept in check and they need to be cleaned from time to time. Eliminate irritants at home. Irritants like cigarette smoke or smoke from chemical fumes or small particles, dust from construction sites near homes should be totally avoided.
#6. Food and Hydration
Drinking plenty of water is another way to fight the ill effects of air pollution. Water removes all toxins from the body. Increasing food content, rich in antioxidants and foods such as onions, turmeric, beetroot, basil, ginger, lemon are all food sources that help in removing the toxins from our bodies.
Firecrackers are one of the main causes of air pollution. According to World of Chemicals, firecrackers emit pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, lead, magnesium, nitrate that cause high levels of respiratory ailments. And as Diwali falls during the onset of winters, gases released from firecrackers get stuck in the mist, thus increasing pollution along with wheezing in children.
Air pollution can be extremely worrying as there is only so much we can do about it ourselves. The best thing we can do for our children is to keep them away from harmful pollutants and teach them the precautions we can take for reducing the effects of air pollution. If we have a cracker free Diwali this year, there will definitely be a marked difference in air quality and the coming winters will be far more enjoyable and cleaner than before. As Helen Keller said ‘optimism is the faith that leads to achievements. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.’
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