Climate change: From respiratory illness to mental health, expert warns children at higher risk of severity

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Children’s bodies are still developing and are vulnerable to hazards linked to climate change like extreme heat and poor air quality.

New Delhi: Climate change is among one of the major global threat. Along with other factors, global health status has also been suffering due to climate change. Dr Atul Palwe, Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist, Motherhood Hospital, Lullanagar, Pune said that climate change will take a toll on the child’s overall well-being.

He said, “Climate change will not only impact adults or senior citizens but even children. A large number of children are known to encounter health problems owing to a sudden shift in the temperature or climate. Whether it is summer, winter, or rainy season, the child is at risk of falling sick. The health effects of climate change tend to impact children more severely than the rest of the population. This is so because children’s bodies are still developing and are vulnerable to hazards linked to climate change like extreme heat and poor air quality. ”

How climate change is impacting children’s health?

Respiratory illness: The impact of climate change on respiratory illnesses is significant. It has the potential to amplify outdoor air pollutants through various means such as drought-induced dust, and wildfire smoke. These pollutants during summer or winter have been directly associated with an increased risk of asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions in children.

Also read: Air pollution can increase risk of cancer among adults

Furthermore, climate change can prolong the allergy season by promoting higher levels of pollen. Additionally, rising temperatures can lead to a shift towards indoor activities for children, exposing them to indoor pollutants like tobacco smoke and mold. This can also further aggravate respiratory infections and dehydration.

Mental health: As children progress through their adolescent years, they undergo emotional development while their brains continue to mature. The changing climate introduces a rise in severe weather conditions like storms and fires that can significantly affect the mental well-being of children.

For instance, without the support of adults, these children may find it difficult to navigate floodwaters or seek refuge during a storm situation.

Water-borne diseases: The occurrence of more frequent and intense rains, flooding, and coastal storms can lead to the infiltration of a higher number of pollutants and disease-carrying organisms into water bodies.

These contaminants pose a threat to both drinking water supplies and recreational waters. Ingesting or coming into contact with untreated, contaminated water can result in gastrointestinal illnesses, dengue, malaria, Leptospirosis, and even Chikungunya.

Heat-related illness: This increase in temperature poses a greater risk of heat illnesses and deaths, especially among vulnerable groups such as children. Outdoor activities and exercise can expose children to the effects of heat, as demonstrated by a teenage girl wiping sweat off her forehead while sitting on a soccer field.

Young children who are athletes are particularly susceptible to heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses. Even infants will have extreme heat-related problems.

Following a natural disaster or extreme weather occurrence, children may exhibit symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Viral infections: Cold weather is known to trigger viral infections in children. They will have a runny nose, cough, rapid breathing, fever, congestion, conjunctivitis, strep throat, weakness, sniffing, body ache, headache, lack of taste, hunger, and stomach flu. Pneumonia is also seen in children during winter.

How to deal?

It’s crucial to ensure that children stay adequately hydrated during periods of intense heat. Encourage them to drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Dr Palwe said, “Limit the child’s outdoor activities during peak temperatures. Understanding early signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, dizziness, or infrequent urination is also paramount in preventing hospital admissions.”

Poor air quality due to heatwaves or increased allergies can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma in youngsters. “Children should not venture out when the air quality is poor and avoid indoor pollution too. Regularly cleaning air filters or investing in air purifiers can help reduce pollutants indoors and create a safer breathing space for your child,” he added.

Moreover, promoting green practices within your household like planting indoor plants can improve indoor air quality. The child should eat well and do breathing exercises to manage respiratory illness. If the child is diagnosed with asthma then he/she should use an inhaler. The child should take medication prescribed by the doctor only.

The child should get vaccinated against influenza and pneumonia.

Also read: Air pollution can trigger asthma in kids, know signs

If the child is in trauma due to any stressful event like flood then the parents should ensure that the child is counseled. Maintain personal hygiene, wash hands regularly, avoid wading through rain water, wear masks while stepping out of the house and children should not be around sick people. By following these health tips specifically designed to protect children from climate change-related risks.

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