NEW DELHI: The respiratory effects of air pollution on children are evident, however, pollutants such as PM 2.5 can also affect the cognitive abilities of children, say experts. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2016, air pollution-related acute lower respiratory infections killed 600,000 children. About 93% of children under the age of 15 inhale toxic air, affecting their development. The exposure of children to various air pollutants causes neurological and cardiac abnormalities in new-borns since the brain matures during the formative years of childhood.
“Studies have shown that it (PM 2.5) can impair verbal and mathematical skills of children, including new learning abilities and prolonged exposure can lead to depression and anxiety. Children and elderly are comparatively more vulnerable and therefore, they need extra care,” Dr Sunil Singla, Director and HoD Neurology, Sanar International Hospitals, Gurugram, told The Sunday Guardian.
Giving more details on the kind of pollutants leading to cognitive disabilities Dr Manish Mannan, pediatrics and neonatology, Paras Hospitals told this paper, “The side effects of each pollutant are unique. Pollutants including lead, sulfur dioxide, and others cause neurological issues. Similarly to this, ozone exposure during pregnancy may result in cardiac abnormalities in the fetus.” In the neurons of the brain, pollutants such as PM 2.5, and ozone lead to inflammation that causes neuronal changes in children, and as a result, neurocognitive disorder happens.
According to Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, consultant, Interventional Pulmonology and sleep medicine, pollutants alter the neurocognitive behavior in children. When a pregnant woman is exposed to pollutants, such exposure leads to premature birth or pre-term babies and affects the calculative, analytical system of babies leading to suicidal tendencies or depression in life. “Such instances are common in urban areas. Pollutants directly lead to inflammation in the brain or lead to genetic changes in a neural circuit,” he told this paper.
While explaining how pollutants affect babies in a womb, Dr Susanta K. Badatya, Consultant Pediatrics, Apollo Cradle Motinagar, told this paper, “During the first two years of life, the brain is in the developing phase so the pollutants transmit from mother to baby through the placenta. As a result of such pollutants, language and communication disorders like Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism, and so on are caused in such scenarios resulting in personality disorder.”
A study done by the UN Environment Programme states that children are shorter than adults, which puts them in greater proximity to the ground and to car exhaust pipes. Furthermore, young infants breathe more quickly, which results in them consuming more air in relation to their body weight. According to the study, kids strolling along busy highways could be subjected to up to a third more air pollution than adults. The negative impact of air pollution is both short-term and long-term. Study shows that male children are more vulnerable due to hormonal pathways, however, conclusive proof is yet to be established. Experts have claimed that the side effects are to be seen over a year and currently, there are more studies to be done on this.