Air Pollution and Childhood Respiratory Allergies
This is an executive summary that reports on air pollution in the US and its impact. It recommends what needs to be done to reverse the current situation. It used the findings of a scientific study for purposes of showing that in the country, air pollution is an urgent issue.
According to The National Health Interview Survey, in general, children in the US are healthy. Prior reports by the federal government show over 80% of them are in perfect or very good condition. However, there is a considerable percentage of children affected by breathing conditions, such as allergies, which force them to limit their activities or miss school. In a prior survey, the responses of parents indicated around 9% of children below the ages of 13 have had a fever in the last one year. A percentage that is slightly higher had respiratory allergy (Bloom & Cohen, 2007). For purposes of comparison, these figures are considerably higher than those reported during the start of the 1980s. For instance, a survey in 1982 indicates that 5.5 percent of children had hay fever or allergic rhinitis within the preceding year.
Respiration allergies are evident in a variety of symptoms with each having a different duration and severity. However, the efforts can be quite far reaching. For instance, childhood allergic rhinitis can lead to loss of school days, increase in mental health disorders, impaired school performance as well as increased sleep. The federal government has made the admission children with such allergies are also likely to miss school as compared to their counterparts who are healthy.
One of the possible factors that causes respiratory allergic indication is the exposure to ambient pollution like traffic pollutants. Prior reviews of air pollution impact on allergies show that pollutants are likely to aggravate effects of allergens in people with existing susceptibility opposed to initiation of allergies among those without any existing allergies. Overall, scientists have discovered there is a positive relationship between air pollution and respiratory allergies. Parker, Akinbami and Woodruff (2009) have established that such relationship exists.
Parker et al. (2009) made the attempt to establish whether air pollution is linked to respiratory allergies in children. They identified over 70,000 children from the National Health Interview Survey who were used in the study. Every year, the NHIS carries a survey related to health issues in US households. The researchers collected responses from the surveys between 1999 and 2005. Overall, they identified 72,279 qualifying for the experiment. They assigned between 40,000 and 60,000 ambient pollution data from the Environmental Protection agency, through use of monitors located within twenty miles of the residential block group of the subject’s. Then they used logistic regression models for purposes of examining the relationship between reporting hay fever or respiratory allergy and annual exposure to particulate matter equal or less than 2.5µmin diameter (PM2.5) or < or =10 µm in diameter, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and exposure to the ozone during summer.
The findings of the researched showed there was persistent relationship between increased summer ozone levels and reported hay fever and respiratory allergies among United States children. Such results were further stronger in areas considered urban. The association was persistent when controlling parental education, age, median county level income, family income current asthma status, medical care access and family structure. The relationship however was weakest amongst children who resided in less metropolitan counties. This suggests there is a variation in forms of allergens or factors (climate or societal) connected to the urbanization levels that modify effects of ozone on hay fever/respiratory allergies. Additionally, it was uncovered association became stronger with increased family income. This suggests that either there are real differences that exist like there is something about children who are privileged that makes them highly susceptible or that parents from the low-income groups are underreporting.
Apart from ozone, the findings as well showed there exists a strong relationship between hay fever and respiratory allergy reporting as well as PM2.5 exposure, moreso after controlling geographic factors. The researchers on the other hand failed to find any evidence that exposure (within 20 or 5 miles) to sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide can lead to respiratory allergy or hay fever. However, this does not essentially mean there is no association. For instance, previous results showed metrics for the two gaseous pollutants, which are based on ambient monitoring are inaccurately represented than comparable metrics for particulate matter and ozone.
Parker et al. study shows there is need for environmental protection as well as reduction of air pollution for the sake of not just children but the adults as well. Ozone in the air, especially during sunny hot days when it reaches high levels can cause great harm to our health. Even low levels of ozone can be harmful. People who suffer from lung disease and individuals with the tendency to be active outdoors might also be sensitive to gas. Children are also susceptible to exposure of ozone because their lungs are still going development and naturally, they are active outside their homes when the levels of ozone are elevated. They are also likely to develop asthma compared to the adults.
Breathing ozone can also set off different range of health complications like throat irritation, congestion, chest pain and coughing. It might also worsen emphysema, bronchitis and asthma. What is more, ground level ozone can also reduce the function of the lungs since it inflames the linings of the organ. Persistent exposure scars the lung tissues permanently. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports the ozone can:
- Make breathing relatively hard
- Lead to causing as well as a sore or scratchy throat
- Injure and inflame the airways
- Lead to shortness of breathing as well as aching while taking deep breaths
- Raise the frequency of asthma attacks
- Exacerbate lung diseases like chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.
- Keep on causing damage to the lungs even after the symptoms have disappeared (EPA, n.d).
All these effects lead to unnecessary school absences, increase of medical use, hospital admissions and doctor visits. An individual with lung or heart disease might die prematurely if they are constantly exposed to the gas.
Ozone is not the only air pollutant that is harmful. There are others which include nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. The US EPA has also cited numerous scientific studies that show the manner in which particulate matters leads to a variety of problems like:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Nonfatal heart attacks
- Premature death in people suffering from heart or lung disease
- Decrease in the lung function
- Aggravated asthma
- Increased respiratory complications like coughing, difficulty while breathing and airways irritation (EPA, nd).
Prior scientific research links short term (30 minutes to 24 hours) exposure to nitrogen dioxide might lead to respiratory effects that are adverse. These might include airway inflammation and increased respiratory symptoms for individuals with asthma (Abelson et al., 2002). In the same line, exposure to sulphur dioxide can also lead to bronchoconstriction and elevated asthma symptoms. Asthmatics who love to play or exercise are especially at high risk (Carlisle & Sharp, 2001).
The federal government has made estimates that around 800,000 individuals die each year due to air pollution. This figure is too high to lose taking into consideration that they can be prevented. Meanwhile, more have to seek medication or get admitted into hospitals as a result of respiratory conditions that are caused by pollutants. Air pollution as well has a negative impact on the economy. An individual who is sick is not as productive as another who is healthy. Some might even be forced into skipping work. Low productivity leads to diminished results. This is then translated to less revenue for the government. Death of a breadwinner might also force low-income family to depend on welfare services, go hungry and in some instances, become homeless.
To address the issue of pollution, the federal government and the US environment policy makers are supposed to:
- Increase monitoring industries: From Parker’s study, it is clear that air pollution in urban areas is rampant. This is true because these areas have a lot of industries. The level of traffic in these areas as well is high. To address the issue of air pollution, it is crucial that manufacturing industries get monitored regularly in order to ensure they do not release excess gases into the atmosphere. While these companies seek permission before they emit wastes they are not monitored strictly once they start the operations. Taking into consideration their machines lose efficiency over time, their levels and acts of pollution increase as well. Regular and impromptu monitoring is going to make sure the industries replace or repair their machines continuously, as such, reducing the amount of pollution. Those who fail to comply will have their licenses revoked till they do so.
- Regulation of pesticides application: Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are found mostly in chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. To increase harvests, farmers with large land tracts usually spray these chemicals over their crops. While they have the justification to do this, they are supposed to be informed they are risking not just their health by that of the entire community around their farms. The government as well needs to regulate application so as not to pollute the air disproportionately. For instance, the government is supposed to have a policy that can prohibit them from sprinkling chemicals when winds are strong. The percentage of chemical applied at once needs to be regulated as well.
- Extensive Public Education: The public needs to put effort into reduction of air pollution as much as they demand the government to act. As such, the Environment Protection Agency is supposed to come up with a massive campaign that is aimed at educating the public on ways it can reduce air pollution. For instance, the public needs to be advised on the appropriate kind of fuel to use, not to spill fuel and not to overfill their tanks. The people also need to be encouraged to use public transport regularly. Presently, not many individuals are familiar with air pollution causes. In most instances, people think air pollution is caused by machines and manufacturing industries that emit smoke. However, extensive public education will make them realize they are agents of air pollution as well. This might be significant in adopting vehicle usage that is environment friendly.
Abelsohn, A., Stieb, D., Sanborn, M. D., & Weir, E. (2002). Identifying and managing adverse environmental health effects: 2. outdoor air pollution. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 166(9), 1161-7.
Bloom, B., Cohen, R. (2007). Summary health statistics for U.S. children: National Health Interview Survey, 2006. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics 10(234): 1-79.
Carlisle, A. J., & Sharp, N. C. C. (2001). Exercise and outdoor ambient air pollution. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(4), 214-22.
Environment Protection Agency, EPA. (n.d.). Six Common Air Pollutants. Retrieved 11 December 2013 from http://www.epa.gov/air/urbanair/
Parker, J. D., Akinbami, L. J., & Woodruff, T. J. (2009). Air pollution and childhood respiratory allergies in the United States. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(1), 140-7.