How to prepare our kids to cope with air pollution risks

In conversation with

Vikash Kumar | founder & CEO of Bibo (Hilt Brands) – a healthcare products company | Father, Ex-Investment Banker

Do we really understand how much dangerous is the air pollution? A high level of air pollution poses health risk not only to those who have respiratory diseases or weak immune system, but also to healthy people. According to the Global Burden of Disease report, air pollution was among the top risk factors for death in India, causing an estimated 16.7 lakhs deaths. Air pollution can affect vital organs of respiratory system such as nose, throat, respiratory tubes, and lungs. Coarse dust particles of size of 2.5-10 microns are considered dangerous, as these can reach the lowest part of the lungs. But fine particles (of size 0.1 microns and smaller), which are not even getting discussed, can cause graver health issues as they can enter the bloodstream and eventually may affect the heart.

Moreover, doctors tell that lungs of children are more vulnerable, as they breathe at twice the speed of an adult and that makes them inhaling harmful pollutants in large quantities.

However, it is not a practical thing to keep the children indoor completely. Then, what should we do? Follow these to protect your kids from the harmful effect of environmental risks.

  1. Work on to build stronger immunity,
  2. Practice good hygiene routine,
  3. Switch to healthier lifestyle,
  4. Take necessary precautions, such as wearing mask in polluted area.

Read more about immunity: 6 ways to boost kids’ immunity

An alumnus of IIT (BHU) Varanasi, Vikash is the founder & CEO of Bibo (Hilt Brands) – a digital therapeutics products brand aiming to disrupt respiratory care in India. As an Ex-Investment banker, he had advised various healthcare companies before starting his own. He is a doting father of two kids and loves to explore new places with them.

He has talked about the common worries of present time – Frequent Cold and Cough in kids, Air Pollution, and rising cases of Asthma. What can we do to avoid it at the first place and alleviate the condition, if it occurs?

Q. Sneezing, Coughing, and running nose are very common among kids. Parents are really worried whether it is because of their weak immunity. What are the symptoms of weak immunity?

Sneezing is good, and so is the coughing. Essentially, these are the reflex actions and indicate that your immune system is working.

The body’s defense system is called immunity. The immune system attacks germs and other foreign substances to keep us safe and healthy. Now coming to weak immunity, some symptoms can be a sign of weak immune system. For example,

  • Frequent attack of cold and cough – In kids, it could be normal to have sneezing and sniffle cycles 4 to 6 times a year. These are mostly responses to allergies or changes in ambient conditions. Having much more frequent cycles could be a sign of weak immunity or them being allergic to something. Also, we should observe whether they recover naturally (sometimes with mild medicines) or often need a lot of medications. If medicines have to be given every time, it indicates weak immunity.
  • Frequent infections – If the immune system is not working in full efficiency, kids will be prone to infections. Infections are not just limited to the respiratory system but also to other parts of the body such as skin, eyes, and stomach. One should get vitamin profile checked and seek expert advice in such cases.

Frequent colds or infections may result in missing the class, reduced activities, and in a long term…maybe a health issue. It is necessary to identify symptoms of weak immunity and take measures early.

Q. What can we do to reduce the frequency of cough and cold in kids?

Colds and coughs are generally caused by the many viruses that are present in the air. The rhinovirus is usually the main culprit as it lodges in the respiratory tract and causes symptoms. Kids catch these viruses easily because they don’t have a fully developed immune system yet. The good news is that as they grow up and their immunity improves, they get fewer colds and coughs.

Viruses can live for several hours on surfaces. An infected person will deposit virus on any items that they touch (generally people use the hands to cover mouth and clear nose rather than using a handkerchief/tissues), like railings, toys, books, pens, door handles, etc. This virus is then transferred to anyone who touches the contaminated objects (and touches mouth, nose, eyes, ears without washing hands).

A good hygiene routine helps to prevent this kind of infection or to reduce the frequency of how often they catch cough and cold.

  • Encourage kids to wash their hands regularly with soap. After every trip to the bathroom, before every meal, after playing outside, etc.
    • Teach them the correct technique of washing hands. Usually, we do not wash long or thoroughly enough to kill all the germs.
    • If they do not have access to water and soap, provide the hand sanitizer.
  • If your child is showing any cold symptoms, it is best to keep them at home to prevent spreading the cold to their friends and caregivers at school.
  • Show your kids the safe way to sneeze and cough to prevent spraying virus into the air. Make them to use tissues/hankies while coughing or sneezing or into the crook of the elbow.
  • Wash hands after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing.

Q. Air pollution is a global public emergency. As per the CSE report, “air pollution is responsible for 12.5 percent of all deaths in India. Its impact on children is equally worrying. Over 1,00,000 children below the age of five die due to bad air in the country.” As we are waiting for world leaders to take concrete steps (which is not going to happen in near future), how can we be better prepared to minimize the effect of air pollution on kids health?

In the context of the current situation few precautions are recommended.

Wear a mask outdoors

This isn’t a cure for respiratory diseases, but it can indeed prevent them from happening in the first place. It also prevents the exacerbation of present conditions. Wearing a mask on the streets helps to block the entry of particulate matter and other pollutants into the airways. (Covid has forced us to wear a mask, but it is good to continue this practice).

Especially during the winter month when Air Quality Index passes the red zone across many cities, a mask is a must even if it is not mandated by the governments. This pollution makes lakhs of people sick and adds to the chronic diseases load year on year. In fact, in India life expectancy has come down by more than a year due to bad air quality.

Also, avoid going outside in the evening and morning (if AQI is poor) as pollutants are nearer to earth because of cold air.

Turmeric milk

A popular ancient home remedy popular in India is drinking turmeric milk for all kinds of inflammation and respiratory issues. Turmeric works as the best anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory herbal medicine. Boil milk with ginger, clove, and a pinch of turmeric. Add honey and drink it warm (don’t add honey when milk is hot).

Tulsi, Ginger and Mint Kadha

The Ayush Kwath ingredient recommended by the Ministry of Ayush in India is based on proven researches. Herbs such as Tulsi, Mulethi, Ginger have proven immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory elements that help us keep healthy.

Boil water or tea or green tea with tulsi leaves, ginger slices, mint leaves and add some honey and salt to taste for making kadha or kashayam. This grandma’s recipe is age-old and very effective. You can also add a few drops of lime juice.

Jala Neti

This is an ancient procedure to clean the nasal passage and unblock the sinus. It is especially beneficial for people with allergic rhinitis and sinusitis, and other respiratory tract infections.

Fill the neti pot with slightly warm water mixed with sea salts, tilt your head sideways and pour the water through one nostril. While breathing slowly throughout the process, using your mouth, let the water come out from the other nostril.

Q. Asthma is another challenge that parents are facing today. Each year, about 350,000 new cases of asthma are reported among kids in India. As per WHO, Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children. It affected an estimated 262 million people (worldwide) in 2019 and caused 461000 deaths. What as a parent, we can do to help the kids with asthmatic symptoms?

In India, Asthma is especially prominent due to unhygienic conditions and polluted air. According to an Epidemiology study done in Bengaluru schools more than 10 years ago, 29% of school kids had chronic asthma symptoms. The research was conducted with a series of data collected for over 5 years.

Asthma is defined as the inflammation in the respiratory tract that causes the swelling and narrowing of the bronchial tubes with excessive mucus secretions. Various irritants and allergens trigger the manifestations of the disease. This includes air-borne allergens such as pollen, smoke particle, dust, etc.

There is only one thing that can be done to improve the condition is to change the lifestyle.

We must understand that humans and all other living beings are linked to nature. The increase in pollution is directly affecting us in many ways. We will have to switch to things that will produce less pollution. Till all the countries of the world achieve this level of understanding we’ll have to depend on the things like masks and inhalers. Try to keep yourself protected from any allergens in the environment such as pollens or dust or smoke. Eat less fatty food and do exercise regularly. Ensure nutrition is optimum with health checks and seek expert medical advice.

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