The Impact of Air Pollution on Child Asthma: Insights From Pediatric Specialists

Young boy with inhaler while playing outside.

Asthma affects people of all ages in the United States, including 4.5 million children under the age of 18. Asthma can develop for a number of reasons, with family history playing a big role. What not everyone realizes, however, is just how much of an impact air pollution can have on the condition.

Studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants is consistently linked to poor asthma control in children, but why is that the case? Asthma pediatricians offer insight into this complex condition and why air quality plays a role.

Childhood Asthma: What It Is and What Causes It

Asthma is a long-term illness that leads the airways to swell and narrow. Your child’s airways can become like a pinched straw, not allowing air to pass through correctly and leading to wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.

Your child may have many different asthma triggers that can lead to asthma attacks. These attacks can develop slowly or come on all at once, potentially putting your child’s life in danger.

Although asthma can begin at any age, it’s very common to see it develop while the immune system is still in formation. The majority of children who get this condition develop symptoms by the time they reach five years of age.

Some of the most common symptoms of asthma in children, according to asthma pediatricians, are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Frequent coughing
  • Less energy while playing
  • Feelings of tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble eating

Asthma attacks present with more severe symptoms. Any of the following symptoms mean you should get emergency care for your child:

  • Increase in respiratory rate at rest
  • Severe coughing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Serious breathing problems
  • Turning pale or having a blue tinge to lips or fingernails

It’s impossible to deny the role that genetics plays in the development of asthma in children. Children who have parents with asthma are much more likely to suffer from the illness themselves. Having viral infections that affect breathing at a young age can impact asthma development, too.

Air quality, however, is a crucial factor in whether your child struggles with this issue. From air pollution to allergens like tobacco, being able to provide a healthy breathing environment is essential.

How Air Pollution Impacts Asthma in Children

Pollutants in the air can have the same effect on children with asthma as other triggers. They cause airway irritation, leading the pathways to swell and tighten. Pollutants can make asthma symptoms worse and could even trigger life-threatening attacks.

A study found that children who were exposed to outdoor coarse particulate matter, like particles that occur from brake and tire wear, as well as dust, were more likely to develop asthma and even require emergency room care. Children under the age of 11 were the most susceptible.

Air pollutants may even suppress genes that regulate the immune system’s ability to differentiate a dangerous foreign substance like a virus from an allergen. This means the immune system overreacts to the allergen, triggering an inflammatory response that causes asthma.

Asthma pediatricians warn of a variety of pollutants, including ground-level ozone that forms when chemicals from cars and even factories mix with sunlight and make smog.

Particle pollution is also a problem. It can be made when dust, soot, smoke, and dirt hang in the air. Small particles have a much easier time finding their way into the lungs and causing all manner of reactions.

Other pollutants include gasses like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. These occur as a result of burning different types of fuels. If there are high levels in the air, they can affect lung function, requiring assistance from a pulmonary pediatrician.

Protecting Your Child From Air Pollution

Asthma pediatricians recommend you check your area’s air quality level daily if your child has asthma. Here are some tips to help manage your child’s asthma:

Monitor Air Quality

Check air quality levels daily through weather reports or the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality page. Because air quality changes daily and from morning to afternoon, it’s important to check the levels often. On days when air quality is poor, use the air conditioner if you have one, and try to limit your child’s outside activities as much as possible. Air quality tends to be better earlier in the day, so if you have to run errands with your child or have any outdoor activities, try to schedule them then.

Travel Tips

When traveling in the car, close the windows and air vents and run the air conditioner.

Improve Indoor Air Quality

Have air purifiers and change the air filters in your AC units regularly. Avoid smoke of all types, including that from wood fires. If people smoke in your household, ask them to go outside to do so.

Educate and Prepare Your Child

Talk with your child about asthma and what they should do if they feel symptoms. Ensure they have their emergency medications for quick relief. If you’re not sure how to talk to your child about the condition, turn to an asthma pediatrician for guidance.

Medication Management

Speak with the pediatrician about increasing medications when air pollution is high. Never adjust medications on your own without consulting with the doctor first.

Following these steps can help manage your child’s asthma more effectively and reduce their exposure to poor air quality.

Managing Your Child’s Asthma

Seeing your child coughing and struggling to breathe can be stressful. You may feel helpless, especially if air pollution is making symptoms worse.
With the help of experts in the field of pediatric asthma, you can get the guidance you need. At Newport Children’s Medical Group, our asthma pediatrician can help identify your child’s triggers while also advising on the best treatment strategies.

As frightening as the condition can be, especially at the start, you and your child can learn how to prevent the worst symptoms with the right medications and lifestyle adjustments. Get started right now by contacting us at Newport Children’s Medical Group for an appointment.