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Air pollution impact: 1 in 3 school kids in Delhi are asthmatic, over 50% have allergies, says study

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Air pollution is harming the health of children and irreparably damaging their lungs.

Air pollution impact: 1 in 3 school kids in Delhi are asthmatic, over 50% have allergies, says study
As millions of children returned to school this week, a study has found that one in three kids in Delhi suffers from asthma or airflow obstruction compared to 22.6 percent children in Karnataka’s Mysuru and Kerala’s Kottayam.
The study by Lung Care Foundation and Pulmocare Research and Education (PURE) Foundation has revealed a high prevalence of symptoms related to asthma and allergy, airway obstruction/asthma, and childhood obesity in highly polluted regions.
The survey across schools in Delhi, Kottayam, and Mysuru, sought to assess the respiratory health of adolescent school children and compare them with relatively cleaner cities in terms of particulate matter air pollution. The children also underwent on-site spirometry – the gold standard test to gauge lung function.
Air pollution is harming the health of children and irreparably damaging their lungs. Here are the key findings :
Delhi’s school children have a significantly higher prevalence of asthma and allergy symptoms as compared to school children in Kottayam and Mysuru
  • In Delhi: 52.8 percent school children reported sneezing, 44.9 percent reported itchy watery eyes, 38.4 percent reported significant cough, 33 percent reported itchy rash, 31.5 percent reported shortness of breath, 11.2 percent reported chest tightness, and 8.75 percent reported eczema.
  • In Kottayam and Mysuru: 39.3 percent school children reported sneezing, 28.8 percent reported itchy watery eyes, 18.9 percent reported significant cough, 12.1 percent reported itchy rash, 10.8 percent reported shortness of breath, 4.7 percent reported chest tightness, and 1.8 percent reported eczema.
  • A total of 29.3 percent children from Delhi were found to have airflow obstruction / asthma on spirometry as compared to 22.6 percent children in Kottayam and Mysuru.
  • This difference was despite the fact that two factors associated with childhood asthma, i.e. family history of asthma and smoker in the family, were more prevalent in Kottayam and Mysuru.
    • On spirometry, boys were observed to have a two-fold higher prevalence of asthma than girls. In Delhi, 37.2 percent boys had airflow obstruction/ asthma as compared to 19.9 percent girls.
    • Most asthmatic children in Delhi have not been diagnosed with asthma and a vast majority do not receive the right treatment
      • Of the 29.3 percent children observed to have asthma on spirometry in Delhi, only 12 percent are reported to have been diagnosed with asthma and only 3 percent used some form of inhalers.
      • In contrast, among the 22.6 percent children observed to have asthma on spirometry in Kottayam and Mysuru, 27 percent are reported to have been diagnosed and 8 percent were using some form of inhalers.
      • Not just lung impairment, air pollution is now an important cause of obesity in children as well!
        • 39.8 percent children from Delhi were obese/overweight as compared to 16.4 percent children from Kottayam and Mysuru.
        • Obese/overweight children had a 79 percent greater chance of having asthma, it was found.
          “This study is an eye-opener. It has shown an unacceptably high prevalence of respiratory and allergic symptoms, spirometry-defined asthma, and obesity in Delhi children. Air pollution is the probable link with all three. It is high time that the air pollution issue in Delhi and other cities is settled in a systematic manner to save the future of our children,” said Dr. Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee Lung Care Foundation & Chairman – Institute of Chest Surgery at Medanta.
          While global studies have shown that air pollution can stunt children’s brains, impact cognitive ability, trigger respiratory disorders and childhood cancer, the prognosis for India’s adult population exposed to high levels of air pollution is equally distressing.
          India is the most polluted country in the world, with more than 480 million people or about 40 percent of the country's population living in the Indo-Gangetic plains of Northern India (Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal), where pollution levels often exceed those found anywhere else in the world, according to The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC). Air pollution is shortening lives by 9.7 years in Delhi and 9.5 years in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most polluted states!
          The World Health Organization’s guidelines stipulate that PM 2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) should not exceed 10 micron per cubic metre and that PM 10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter) should not exceed 20 micron per cubic metre.
          In India, the average PM 2.5 concentration in 2019 was 70 micron per cubic metre, the highest in the world and seven times the WHO's guideline. Air pollution shortens average Indian life expectancy by 5.9 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guideline was met, estimates the EPIC study.
          While the quality of air in India's north remains toxic, the menace now seems to have spread wider and the situation is 'alarming’. For example, the average citizen in states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh is now losing an additional 2.5 to 2.9 years of life expectancy, relative to early 2000, as per EPIC.