Infants and children are most vulnerable to lung diseases or infection due to air pollution as their lungs are still growing and developing. Air pollution harms children during the developmental stage of their life and this may also cause lifelong health problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is responsible for more than 4 million deaths annually. About 91 per cent of the global population lives in an area or country where the pollution levels are greater than the safe standards set by the WHO.
While air pollution was already affecting your child’s lungs, the deadly coronavirus posed yet another challenge. The Covid-19 pandemic saw a huge number of cases where children were affected by lung disease or respiratory problems. Although there has been a significant drop in the number of SARS-CoV2 cases, new variants like Omicron still emerge. The rising pollution and Covid threat therefore pose a double challenge in keeping our children away from lung disease. Doctors advise parents of children suffering from asthma to be extra cautious during Holi and Diwali festivals as the level of pollutants and toxic chemicals in the air peaks considerably.
How rising air pollution is affecting your child’s lung health
Children in big metros and populated cities are most vulnerable to lung diseases due to highly polluted air. A recent study suggested that nearly one out of every three children in Delhi has asthma and airflow obstruction. Exposure to air pollution at a young age can not only hinder lung growth and inhibit brain development but also increase the risk of conditions such as asthma.
According to research, poor air quality is not only dangerous to children and teens but unborn babies as well. There is a correlation between breathing polluted air and the gestation periods, birth weights and lung health after birth, as per studies. Children as young as 5 were found to be suffering from respiratory problems, which is a matter of serious concern as the condition can affect them for the rest of their lives.
Covid-19 tsunami & respiratory issues in children
Coronavirus disease affects all components of the respiratory system. As per research, children infected with novel coronavirus are less likely to develop severe illness compared with adults, but they are still at risk of developing severe illness and complications from COVID-19. Children living with underlying conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease may be at higher risk of severe illness. Although some reports say that Covid-19 infection does not affect lung function in kids and young adults, it is safe to get them vaccinated. Pertinent to mention here that India has started vaccinating children aged 12 to 14 years from March 16 as it expands its Covid-19 vaccination coverage.
Lung disease in children: risk factors and treatment
According to research, lung problems account for about one quarter of all visits by children to a general practitioner. The two main conditions affecting children are asthma and cystic fibrosis. Apart from that, there is Childhood interstitial lung disease (chILD), but it is rare. However, the factors that increase the risk of developing child include exposure to substances in the environment that can irritate the lungs, such as molds and chemicals.
Current treatment approaches include supportive therapy, medicines and, in the most serious cases, lung transplants. Supportive therapies include oxygen therapy, use of breathing devices, besides others. Among medicines, corticosteroids are a common treatment for many children who have chILD. These medicines help reduce lung inflammation. A lung transplant may be an option for children who have severe chILD if other treatments haven't worked.