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How Dusty Environments Affect Our Children's Health

As parents, we want to provide safe home environments for our children. We cover up electrical sockets, pad sharp table corners, lock up dangerous cleaning solvents, put up gates at the top and bottom of stairs, and more. But what about the dangers that we can’t readily see, like air pollution?

A child’s lungs continue to develop until the age of six, and compared to adults, children have a large lung surface area in relation to their body weight. In fact, they breathe 50 per cent more air per kilogram of their body weight than adults. Their underdeveloped and large (by relation) lungs make them much more susceptible to air pollution than adults. 

According to the University of Southern California’s Children’s Health Study, young children exposed to high levels of air pollution, especially those living in areas with high-particle concentrations are at an increased risk for reduced lung function, asthma and increased chronic cough and bronchitis.
In particular, particle concentration is among the major risks for a child’s developing respiratory system. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems—the smaller the particle, the more dangerous. Particles less than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10) pose a health concern because they can accumulate in the respiratory system once inhaled. Particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) are referred to as "fine" particles and are believed to pose the greatest health risks. Because of their small size—approximately 1/30th of the average width of a human hair—fine particles can lodge deeply into the lungs and possible reach the bloodstream.

According to the World Health Organisation, “Susceptible groups with pre-existing lung or heart disease as well as elderly people and children are particularly vulnerable. For example, exposure to PM [particulate matter] affects lung development in children, including reversible deficits in lung function as well as chronically reduced lung growth rate and a deficit in long-term lung function.”

As per WHO’s urban air quality database, out of 1,600 cities, Doha has the 14th highest concentration of PM2.5.

Qatar is, of course, a desert country under constant construction and these construction sites produce huge amounts of particulate matter. At the moment, there isn’t much that can be done to reduce the concentration of particles outside, but the good news is that it is possible to reduce the concentration of particles indoors.

Since we spend most of our time indoors (around 90 per cent), it is important to do to reduce the particle concentration as much as possible in order to protect our health, and especially, the health of our children.

Most air conditioning systems include filters that have a very limited efficiency and are totally useless in removing small particles—the ones most dangerous to our health.

However, there are high-efficiency (HEPA) air filters in the market that can remove up to 99.97 per cent of small particles; these are what we need to create healthy indoor environments.

Here are some best practices and tips that can help in improving the air quality in your home:

  • Use a HEPA vacuum.
  • Clean frequently using non-irritating cleaners.
  • Put a high-quality, certified HEPA air purifier in your child’s room and replace the filter every six months. Make sure the air purifier is high-efficiency for PM2.5.
  • Make sure to select a purifier appropriate to the size of the room. For the best protection, you want a minimum of five air changes per hour. Most units calculate the room capacity with just 2.7 air changes per hour, which is insufficient.
  • Avoid smoking indoors and near your children. Wash your hands and change your clothes after smoking.
  • Keep pets out of your newborn’s room.
  • Keep the windows properly closed and sealed. Open them from time to time to ventilate the house, but not during very dusty days.

Although no lone action or solution can guarantee a 100 per cent safe indoor air environment, it’s our responsibility to provide our children with the best indoor air quality as possible.

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