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Respiratory Diseases in Children

1. To what extent do respiratory diseases affect children?

  • 1.1 How common and severe are respiratory diseases in children?
  • 1.2 Are deadly respiratory diseases becoming rarer in developed countries
  • 1.3 Are there geographical variations in respiratory diseases in Europe?

1.1 How common and severe are respiratory diseases in children?

See also GreenFacts' Digest on Air Pollution
Figure 1
: causes of death in children in Africa and South East Asia

Respiratory diseases are the most common cause of illness in children in developed countries and a leading cause of death in underdeveloped countries. The respiratory health state of children is determined by the interactions of different factors. These include environmental factors, individual sensitivity and genetic factors. Such factors can determine not only children’s respiratory health, but may have also consequences for respiratory health in later life. In developed countries, there are now fewer cases of life threatening acute respiratory infections. However, asthma and respiratory allergies are getting more frequent and it is not yet entirely clear why. More...

1.2 Are deadly respiratory diseases becoming rarer in developed countries

In developed countries the frequency of life threatening acute respiratory infections has dropped over the last 50 years. This is due in part to the use of antibiotics and vaccines against infectious diseases, as well as to a general increase in the standard of living. Respiratory illnesses could be further reduced, for instance, by developing an effective vaccine against viral bronchiolitis or by preventing exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy and early childhood. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is rarer now than it was in the 1980s, but it still affects about one child out of 1500. Although its causes are still unknown, the practical recommendation that infants should sleep on their backs may have helped to reduce the number of cases.

Better health care allows more and more children to survive serious lung and airway diseases. However, these individuals tend to remain particularly sensitive to environmental triggers such as air pollution in their adult life. More...

1.3 Are there geographical variations in respiratory diseases in Europe?

Within Europe, there tends to be more asthma and allergy in the wealthier West and more infectious disease in the poorer East. Moreover, there are also differences between the North and the South in terms of asthma and allergies.

It is unclear whether these regional variations can be entirely explained by differences in the way diseases are diagnosed or by real differences in factors related to the environment or to the sensitivity of individuals. More...


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