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Environmental Protection

Could Air Pollution Be Harming Your Child’s Lungs?

Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Hernandez

As a pediatrician in Southern California, I see the very real health impacts of air pollution through the symptoms of my patients. From more frequent and severe asthma attacks on days with high levels of air pollution, to respiratory issues resulting from living too close to our region’s busiest freeways, many of my young patients suffer from breathing unhealthy air.

Developing lungs​​​​​​​

While breathing air pollution is unhealthy for everyone, children are especially vulnerable. Children face special risks from air pollution because their lungs are growing and because they are so active, leading to more air pollution inhaled. Studies undertaken in California found that growing up breathing high levels of air pollution may even affect how children’s lungs develop, putting them at greater risk of lung disease as they age. Children suffering from asthma are especially at risk — including the nearly 652,000 children with asthma in California.

Let’s talk about where this pollution is coming from. Two all-too-common sources of pollution in California are vehicles and wildfires.

Sources of pollution

Exhaust from cars and trucks contributes significantly to various types of harmful air pollution, including ground-level ozone pollution and particle pollution. Smoke from wildfires contributes to particle pollution. Ozone and particle pollution are both dangerous and widespread. Unfortunately, climate change makes both of these harder to clean up. Ozone pollution is more likely to form in hotter temperatures, and changing climate conditions are making wildfires more frequent and intense in the western United States.

While this is very alarming, there is good news. Access to air quality data and information about air pollution forecasts at www.airnow.gov can help you protect your family by informing your decisions on when to limit exposure to unhealthy air. Thanks to the federal Clean Air Act and California’s clean car program, the air is getting cleaner. Still, we need to do much more so every child can breathe healthy air. 

Afif El-Hasan, M.D., Pediatric Asthma Specialist, Kaiser Permanente Orange County, [email protected]

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