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Respiratory Diseases in Children

5. Can indoor air pollution contribute to respiratory diseases in children?

  • 5.1 In what way can children be exposed to and affected by indoor pollution?
  • 5.2 What air pollutants can affect children at home?
  • 5.3 What air pollutants can affect children at school and in their spare time?

Indoor air pollution can be much worse than the air pollution outdoors. In Europe, most children spend 90% of their time indoors. Therefore, they are particularly affected by indoor air quality at home, but sometimes also at day care or school, and during recreational activities such as swimming. More...

5.1 In what way can children be exposed to and affected by indoor pollution?

5.1.1 Outdoor pollution may affect indoor air quality. Moreover, there can be indoor pollution due, for instance, to the presence of hazardous building materials, the use of cleaning products, or to smoking. Increased insulation tends to decrease air exchange between the indoor and outdoor environment. Insufficient air exchange can lead to the build-up of both air pollutants and moisture, which favours the development of mites and moulds. More...

5.1.2 Poor indoor air quality can cause or contribute to the development of respiratory diseases such as irritations and infections of the respiratory tract and exacerbation of asthma. In addition, it can cause headaches, dry eyes, nausea, and fatigue. Children who already have respiratory diseases are at increased risk of suffering from the effects of indoor air pollution. More...

5.2 What air pollutants can affect children at home?

5.2.1 In the home, tobacco smoke can be an important source of toxic air contaminants and contribute to a number of health effects that can be chronic, such as childhood asthma, or even deadly, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

See also study on
Active & Passive smoking

If a mother smokes during pregnancy, the growth of the unborn child can be adversely affected, increasing the risk of low birth weight. In children, passive smoking can lead to a variety of effects affecting the upper and lower respiratory tract, as well as ear infections and non specific symptoms of cough and wheezing. Passive smoking can worsen symptoms in children with allergies and may make them more sensitive to food allergens. More...

5.2.2 Living organisms such as moulds, bacteria, viruses, and dust mites can adversely affect indoor air quality. In newer houses, due to increasing energy-saving standards, air exchange between indoor and outdoor is limited. This can increase humidity which promotes the growth of micro-organisms and increases the amount of indoor air allergens. This in turn can lead to a higher risk of allergic disorders and an increase in respiratory health effects such as wheezing and asthma. More...

5.2.3 There is disagreement as to whether exposure of children to pets either leads to protection against allergies or increases the sensitivity to allergens. This may in part be explained by the timing of the exposure to animals. Exposure to animals in early life may result in tolerance to animal allergens whereas exposure later in life may lead to sensitisation and allergic symptoms. More...

5.2.4 Cooking and heating, particularly with gas, can lead to high NOx levels, which may increase a child’s susceptibility to develop different respiratory diseases. More...

5.2.5 Indoor chemicals may also be released from building materials, particularly after renovation activities. For instance, volatile organic compounds may be released by solvents used in paints. It has also been shown that exposure to indoor chemicals during early childhood increases the risk of infectious respiratory diseases. More...

5.3 What air pollutants can affect children at school and in their spare time?

In general, the same factors that influence indoor air quality at home are also relevant to indoor air quality in day care facilities and schools. Indoor air is mainly affected by tobacco smoke, allergens such as moulds, gases from heating and cooking appliances, products from cleaning and building materials, and outdoor air pollution. As the establishment of active smoking often occurs in late childhood and early adolescence , there is a need for health education to prevent children from starting to smoke.

In adolescents choosing a technical education, specific exposures can occur during practical classes and on-the-job training, for instance when handling paints, animals, or food. This may lead to work-related asthma.

When children are playing or doing sports they increase their rate and depth of breathing and consequently receive higher “doses” of air pollutants. Therefore, it is important that physical activities take place in the cleanest possible environment, be it youth clubs, sport halls, or swimming pools. More...

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