Protecting Your Family from Outdoor Pollution
Four rules for monitoring air quality, kids' breathing changes, and more, especially for parents raising kids in a city.
Rule #1: Pay attention to air alerts in your city.
Tracking pollution is not difficult. Air pollution levels are monitored and reported publicly in every city, often with the next day's weather forecast.
Rule #2: Adjust your kids' activities.
It's surprising how many people let kids play outside with abandon on the worst of bad air days. We know it's a pain to keep active kids indoors when the sun is shining, but we're really not asking that much. Most cities are only subject to a very few days of excessively bad air each year, if that. Remember, not only are children not immune to pollution effects, they are, in fact, much more sensitive than grown-ups.
So adjust their schedules according to the pollution forecast. On days when the air quality is expected to be at its worst levels, no running around the playground during suspect times. If the issue is carbon monoxide, the worst time would be morning; if it's ozone, nix outdoor play in the afternoon.
Rule #3: Monitor your child's appearance and physical condition.
Unlike adults, a child won't necessarily be conscious of the fact that he's suffering from pollution. If he's coughing or wheezing or simply short of breath, he needs to stop running around -- no matter how much fun he's having.
Another thing: you may be thrilled that you have a happy, healthy, active, kid. You should be. But active kids are particularly susceptible to the effects of ozone and particulate matter because they breathe so much while running around. So if your child is a whirlwind of motion, be particularly sensitive to any display of symptoms when the air quality is questionable.
Rule #4: Consider some enlightening food for thought.
Ruth Etzel, MD, PhD, former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Environmental Health and editor of its handbook, Pediatric Environmental Health, speaks about tantalizing studies showing potential benefits for asthma sufferers from eating apples or fish and even from vitamins C and E. While such studies are limited, the issues are "worthy of further study," concurs Gerald Loughlin, MD, who before coming to New York was credited with building Johns Hopkins' highly regarded pediatric respiratory disease program. The way we look at this, you've got one more reason to make sure your children are eating well-balanced diets.