by Dr. Aaron Levy
Climate change and air pollution affect everyone. But children, the elderly, and those with chronic illnesses like asthma are most vulnerable to the negative consequences. We often can’t see the impact air quality has on children’s health, making it challenging to explain. As a pediatrician, I seek to make the issue visible by educating children, parents, and our community about how the air we breathe can affect our health.
As we all know, children’s bodies and brains are growing and developing, making them more sensitive to changes in the environment. A large portion of lung development takes place after birth. Studies show that lung growth and function may be affected by pollution in both the short- and the long-term. Children often play outdoors, which also puts them at increased risk of exposure to pollution, especially during the warmer months when ozone levels are highest.
Over 6 million children in the United States and nearly 1 in 5 children in North Carolina have been diagnosed with asthma. Ground-level ozone and particle pollution, the two major air pollutants in the state, can irritate the lungs and trigger asthma attacks. Allergies can also trigger asthma, and warmer temperatures related to climate change have led to longer allergy seasons. Asthma leads to school absences, increases in emergency room visits and sometimes even deaths.
While medicines exist to treat asthma, education about the impact of air quality on health helps us to be proactive and advocate for better care for our children. Tips to know and share include:
Particle pollution can occur year-round and is greater near highways, construction sites, fires, and smoking areas.
- Ozone pollution is generally highest in cities on hot sunny days in the afternoon. Plan your outside time for the morning on hot days, especially if you or any of your family members are sensitive to air pollution.
- Know when there is an “air quality alert” day in your area. The local news will often broadcast these alerts, indicating that it could be dangerous for special populations like children and those with lung disease to be outside.
- The website www.airnow.gov gives up-to-the-minute data on the air quality in your town or city.