Pollution causes asthma (and more) in two million children worldwide

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Pollution affects everyone especially the most fragile

Effetti dell'inquinamento.

Air pollution is bad for everyone. But in particular to suffer its effects more than others are unfortunately the most fragile groups of people: pregnant women, people with previous illnesses, the elderly. And children, of course. A study recently published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health, by a team of researchers at George Washington University, has just pointed out, precisely, that about 2 million children a year, worldwide, develop asthma as a result of living in particularly polluted areas and breathing unhealthy area. Outside and inside the home.

 

Pediatric asthma and pollution

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“Our study,” explained Susan Anenberg, professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, “showed that exposure to nitrogen oxide [one of the most dangerous pollutants, mostly emitted by heat-engine cars, ed.] significantly increases the risk of developing asthma in children, a risk that becomes particularly high for children living in densely populated urban areas. Our findings support the idea that making the air healthier is strategically critical to preserving children’s health.”  But nitric oxide is but one of the pollutants that correlate with asthma because the problem is also inside the home. Complex mixtures of indoor pollutants, even at low concentrations, can cause harmful effects on the health of susceptible people over time: children, pregnant women, the elderly, people suffering from asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Exposure to smoke, many studies on the subject report, promotes allergic sensitization in children, with increased blood concentrations of antibodies that cause allergic reactions. This effect is more pronounced in preschool children because they are the most sensitive to the harmful effects of smoking. While asthmatic children exposed to secondhand smoke, compared with unexposed children, have a marked increase in bronchospasm episodes and urgent emergency room admissions, and twice the risk of asthma-related hospitalizations. Not only that, in children, exposure to certain indoor pollutants such as particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and radon gas is associated with an increased risk of irritation, acute respiratory symptoms, bronchial hyper-reactivity, respiratory infections, and allergic sensitization.

 

Reducing exposure to pollutants

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In light of these data, it is therefore essential to try to reduce exposure to pollutants as much as possible. Doing so means helping to reduce the frequency of asthma and its evolution to severe forms. In particular, it is necessary to act on school, the place where young children spend a large part of the day. Several analyses have shown a positive association between acute respiratory disease, asthma, allergies and numerous factors in the school environment, including humidity, pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, volatile organic compounds, CO2, formaldehyde and allergens. Monitoring their concentration is the first step.

 

A broader look

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What emerged in these studies are but the tip of the iceberg of the problem of the connection between pollution and children’s health. The figures, unfortunately, are not encouraging: according to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, every day about nine out of ten children (or nearly two billion people) “breathe air so polluted that their health and development are seriously affected.” And unfortunately, the WHO continues, many of them die: again according to the same document, in 2016 about 600,000 children lost their lives as a result of acute lower respiratory tract infections (mainly pneumonia) caused by exposure to pollution. As mentioned above, the problem is particularly acute in low-middle-income nations: in the report Air pollution and child health: prescribing clean air (“Air pollution and child health: prescribing clean air”), authored by WHO experts, it is explained that the link between pollution and health is very early, and begins even before birth. “When a pregnant woman lives in a polluted environment,” the scientists write, “she is more likely to have a premature birth and give birth to a smaller, lower-than-normal baby.” Asthma isn’t the only one of the problems, by the way: pollution has detrimental effects on neurodevelopment and cognitive abilities in toddlers, and is linked to the onset of childhood cancer; in addition, children exposed to higher levels of pollutants are at higher risk of developing chronic diseases-for example, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders-when they become adults. One reason for this phenomenon, according to experts, lies in the fact that infants and children breathe faster than adults, and therefore, for the same levels of pollutants, absorb more of them.

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