The air is toxic and children are bearing the brunt.
Children breathe faster than adults per unit of body weight and end up inhaling a higher amount of contaminants. They are also more likely to breathe through their mouths, which increases the amount of pollutants they inhale because it bypasses the preliminary filtration in the nasal passages.
“Children spend more hours per day outdoors than adults, and play closer to the ground, where particulate matter and air toxins are higher,” says paediatric pulmonologist Dr Krishan Chugh, director of paediatrics at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.
Air pollutants trigger allergies, cough, viral fever, lung infections, high blood pressure, asthma anxiety, tiredness, diabetes, heart disease and irreversible lung damage.
“The risk is highest in the morning when they are on the way to or are at school and when they are out at play, when they breathe rapidly and inhale a higher volume of air inhaled that damages their still-developing airways, lungs and immune system,” says Dr Anupam Sibal, senior paediatrician and group medical director, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
“Younger children must be kept home and those sent to school must travel in vehicles with the windows rolled up, use masks, stay indoors in the morning and strenuous physical activity that strains lungs should be discouraged till the pollution levels drop,” says Dr Chugh.
Children who go to school or live within 500 metres of a busy road have under-developed lungs, which remain with them for the rest of their lives, found a study of schoolchildren from Germany, Sweden, the UK and The Netherlands.
“Apart from causing coughing, laboured breathing, lung and throat irritation and wheezing, ozone lowers immunity and the ability to fight infections. Even short-term exposure causes allergic sensitisation and wheezing,” says Dr Sibal.
Sulphuric acid inhaled disrupts the working of the lungs’ mucociliary clearance system that traps particulates and pathogens (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and moves them towards the mouth, where they are either swallowed or coughed out, which raises risk of infections.
The parents of children with existing diseases need to plan ahead. “Children with asthma, chronic heart and lung disease, and immune-compromised and malnourished children are at risk of symptoms aggravating and infections such as pneumonia,” says Dr Vinod Paul, head of the department of paediatrics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“Children with asthma and respiratory conditions must consult their doctor for better medical control of the disease. Children with asthma, for example, should be put on anti-inflammatory drugs for long-term control and rescue medicines such as short-acting beta agonists must be kept handy for quick relief in case of an attack,” says Dr Paul.
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