Air pollution can cause autism, ADHD, growth disorder in kids: How to keep them safe

Children are the most vulnerable of the toxic air inside and outside your homes.

Did you know?

  • A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that over 100,000 children younger than five years old died in India in 2016 due to toxic air
  • Another report by WHO states that around 93 percent of the world's children under 15 years breathe polluted air that can affect their health and development

The above statistics are a cause of concern for anyone who is living in urban cities as it depicts what our youngest generation is facing each day. Children are the most vulnerable group, who are breathing toxic air that is choking them to death or towards a life that will be a lifelong struggle. With Delhi recording the Air Quality Index (AQI) at 381 during the end of October this year, the air that these kids are breathing is of a very poor category.

Delhi Air Pollution. Image: AP

Delhi Air Pollution. Image: AP

Before many of you wonder about the solutions, let’s understand what air pollution means and factors that cause it.

It is a term used when there is a mix of gases and chemical particles in the air we breathe. These invisible gases are introduced into Earth’s atmosphere that cause diseases, allergies, and even death. Tons of such particles when together, can be seen in the form of haze. Some major contributors of pollutants are burning of stubble in Punjab and Haryana, seasonal fires, dust events, passenger vehicles, industrial power plants, and other natural sources.

(Also read: Delhi Air Pollution: 6 smart ways to deal with it)

Let’s now understand how children are most susceptible to air pollution.

It’s a fact that children are more active and keeping them indoors is not easy. This lifestyle makes them gasp more air thereby, increasing their risk of falling sick due to inhaling contaminated air. The dangerous tiny particles also have the potential to enter the bloodstream and the lungs to cause acute lower respiratory infections, like pneumonia and influenza. As a result of this exposure, adverse respiratory health problems leading to several acute and chronic diseases can affect the children.

Risk of brain development and sometimes even brain damage is another danger for the young ones inhaling the impurities (especially heavy metal pollutants from fossil fuel combustion) from the air. This can result in slowing down the development of the young brain. These harmful gases can further reduce the growth of white matter, a crucial element that helps the different parts of the body communicate with the brain thus leading to learning difficulties.

Also, for children below one year of age, these pollutants can damage their nervous system and cognitive development. This can further affect their IQ adversely, including verbal and nonverbal IQ.

The presence of Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of organic compounds commonly found in the environment due to the incomplete burning of oil, wood, garbage, or coal cause a major threat to human health and developmental delay in children. The infants at three years of age were more likely to be developmentally delayed and were more prone to psychological and behavioural problems later in childhood. This could be in the way of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression.

Just like the external growth of a child is correspondent to his/her age i.e. the arms, legs, head, and height, everything takes its time; the internal unseen organs too develop with age. For example, lungs and alveoli, the tiny sacs within our lungs to move through the bloodstream take 18 years i.e. till the child becomes an adult to grow completely. Similarly, the immune and metabolic systems of a child also takes time to develop and protect the human body against harmful substances. When exposed to the polluted air, it can alter the immune system and thus, increase the chances of allergies and asthma in them.

Having said that, the effects of pollution is not only adverse for young children, but also for the ones in the womb. This, therefore, makes pregnant women vulnerable to its side-effects as well. These to-be-born children, when exposed to unclean air through their mothers, can result in adverse outcomes like premature birth and low birth weight, stillbirths, and even autism.

But, here are some of the measures that can help reduce the impact of adulterated air

Invest in air purifiers - With the air quality in Delhi and even other parts of the country worsening, air purifiers are highly recommended. These devices clean the indoor air through a series of filters that remove harmful airborne particles such as dust, pollens etc. It also enables circulating purified air back into the room. Make sure to buy the one that cleans PM 2.5 particles, the one that cause the most damage to the health of both children and adults.

Limit outdoor activities on smoggy days - As explained, activities like running, or playing sports outdoors will require children to breathe in more air or dust particles than usuall, and therefore, on a smoggy day it is advisable to encourage them to stay indoors. It is also advisable, that when outdoor, use air pollution masks.

Make Dietary changes - Increase the intake of foods that are rich in antioxidant i.e. include all the fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in Vitamin A & Vitamin C.

Buy Indoor plants - This is the best and one of the most inexpensive ways of keeping the air in the house clean and safe. Indoor plants like Spider plant, Aloe Vera, and Tulsi help absorb toxic gases while, generating oxygen to improve the air quality.

To conclude we say, the issue of bad air quality needs to be dealt with now. It is not something that will go away anytime soon thus, being cautious and taking the necessary actions is critical.

The author is a senior consultant for

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