Effects of Air Pollution During Infancy

In 2022, everyone is born into a world where pollutants saturate the air we breathe, creating more work for our bodies to adapt and filter a wide range of toxins. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this takes a much heavier toll on children and infants, as “their organs are developing and they have a higher air per body weight intake”.

The study states that the increased stress on children’s bodies caused by air pollution can contribute to a host of health problems, such as a higher risk of lung function development, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses. One of the main culprits contributing to these risks is the concentration of Particulate Matter (PM) in our ambient environment.

What is PM and How Does it Affect Children’s Health?

PM is an umbrella term for the various toxins that are suspended in the air as droplets. Comprised of heavy metals, acids, ammonium, organic chemicals, and other airborne particles. PM concentration determines the air quality and the potential risk it has on your or your little one’s health.

The higher the PM concentration, the larger the health implications - when the body takes in a higher concentration of PM than it can safely metabolize, it can suffer from different short- and long-term respiratory symptoms.

Why Should Children Limit Their Exposure to Air Pollution?

Children are more susceptible to higher PM concentrations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), here are several reasons why infants and children should be more vigilantly protected from air pollution:

  • Developing Lungs: High levels of air pollution can interfere with their respiratory organs.
  • Higher Lung Surface Area: Children have a high lung surface area relative to their body weight, allowing them to intake more contaminants than their bodies can safely manage.
  • Slower Metabolism: The relatively slow metabolism of a child or infant cannot filter, break down, and detox PM at the same rate as an adult, creating more dangerous levels of buildup.
  • Neurotoxins: neurotoxins (“substances which alter the functions of the nervous system by damaging brain cells or nerves”) can stifle brain development, with a potential to impair cognitive development.
  • Active Lifestyles: Since children are generally very active, they have a higher intake of oxygen, and with it, a greater risk of accumulating high concentrations of PM.
  • Childbirth Risks: Premature births and low birth weight are proven risks for infants born to mothers with high air pollution exposure.

How to Protect Children and Infants from the Risks of Air Pollution

While we have very little control over the pollutants in the air at any given moment, there are choices and actions to take to protect our children and infants from the potential risks of air pollution:

  • Taking the quiet route. If you live in a busy city, taking a side street or residential route when walking is a great way to reduce their intake of vehicle emissions and other harmful pollutants.
  • Carrying infants/toddlers. When infants and toddlers are just learning to walk, their height gives them the unfortunate disadvantage of being at the same level as the car exhaust emissions on the street. Over the span of a day or week, this can accumulate to harmful levels. When this type of pollution is unavoidable, it is advised to carry or pick them up for short periods to lessen their intake.
  • Monitoring air pollution and PM levels in your neighborhood. If your city has an air quality monitoring station, check it regularly to reduce exposure during high-risk periods. Alternatively, you can view hyper-local, real-time air quality readings through the free PurpleAir Map, with local data collected by the PurpleAir Community.

Take Action to Protect Your Kids Today

Worried about air quality affecting your children?

Monitor the Particulate Matter levels around the world with our free, real-time PurpleAir Map. or join PurpleAir's mission to make air quality data accessible to everyone by investing in an air quality monitor for your home. 

Together, we can be informed and make changes in our daily habits and the community to improve air quality.