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Ask Dr. Nandi: How poor air quality could impact kids' health

Doctor's office
Posted at 4:07 PM, Sep 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-18 17:45:16-04

(WXYZ) — Canadian wildfires led to dangerous air quality across the country. A recent national poll found many parents are worried about the impact these fires and poor air quality overall are having on their children’s health.

As a parent, I'm also concerned about how the wildfires and extreme weather conditions are impacting my kids. So, it’s not surprising to me that a poll conducted by the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital found that:

  • 73%, or 3 in 4, of parents are worried about how air quality problems could impact their child’s health
  • 67%, or 2 in 3, of parents have noticed poor or unhealthy air quality in their local area, with wildfires being the most common cause
  • Among parents who noted poor air quality, 1 in 5 believed it had a negative impact on their child's health.

What’s important to understand is that air quality can significantly affect children's health. Because their lungs are smaller and they breathe faster, they’re more exposed to pollution. This can cause or worsen respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis. Also, since children's organs are still developing, they’re more vulnerable to health risks from exposure to polluted air.

Furthermore, tiny particles from pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs. And this can cause a range of health issues like poorer cognitive functioning, impaired behavioral development, childhood cancer and an increased risk of obesity. Also, it can lead to stroke and heart disease later in life.

According to the Mott poll report, fewer than 63% of parents said they felt like they knew how to protect their kids. Among those who did take action, here’s what the poll found:

  • 69% kept their windows closed
  • 68% limited their child’s outdoor activities
  • 47% had their child avoid strenuous outdoor activities
  • 19% used a home air filter
  • 11% had their child wear a mask when outdoors

Now, all of the actions I just mentioned are great steps parents can take when air quality is poor. Keep in mind, however, that bad weather days can sometimes drag on. And parents may need to find a balance between keeping kids indoors and letting them play outside, as outdoor play is great for kids' mental and physical health.
However, if they do play outside, please keep an eye out for signs of breathing difficulties like wheezing and coughing. If there’s a history of asthma or environmental allergies, then definitely consider indoor options for physical activity. I’d also recommend that parents talk to their child’s family doctor about air pollution and how it might affect their child’s health.