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5 Simple Ways to Protect Your Child’s Lungs

Virus risk, contagious danger,mum &  dauther with mask
Most parents understand the benefits of keeping their child’s environment clean. It’s why they spend the extra $2.25 on hypoallergenic detergent and explain, at least three times a day, the importance of washing hands between soccer practice and a drumstick dinner.

As both a proud mother of two children and a pediatrician, I know that parents drill this message into the dirt because we see how easy it is for kids to get sick from their environments. Even though we take all kinds of precautions in our daily routines, it can be easy to forget about one of the worst environmental culprits in Orange County – air quality.

The scientific community, and many moms, already knows that air quality can have a big impact on children’s lungs. But a new study undertaken by researchers at the University of Southern California underscores the stake that moms have in understanding the health impacts of air quality in our community. Researchers studied lung development of 11- to 15-year-olds over a five year period. During that time, air quality was drastically improved through a reduction of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles in the air. At the same time, lung development in children in the area also greatly improved: lung capacity (the amount of air lungs can take in) was greater for children both with and without asthma. This study shows that even though California’s air has become much cleaner over the last few decades, it can still have a tangible negative impact on our lungs, and children’s lungs in particular. It’s critical that parents understand these risks and take steps to mitigate the harmful effects of dirty air.

Air quality is an incredibly important health factor in Orange County: The American Lung Association gave the area’s air a failing grade (in 2014) and pollution from traffic continues to be a problem. As the USC study demonstrates, our air is getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go. Moms can’t change Orange County’s air quality overnight, but they can mitigate its effects on their children’s respiratory health. Here are 5 tips for keeping the air your children breathe and play in as clean as possible.

Encourage your children not to play outside during rush hour – Cars are a major contributor to air pollution and air quality is often worse during peak-traffic times. Try to time schoolwork time, or other indoor activities, during high traffic times. Do take care not to sacrifice exercise altogether, as this plays an important role in helping us combat the rising trend of childhood obesity in Orange County.

Don’t smoke indoors – As a doctor, I don’t encourage smoking. It raises your risk of lung cancer, damages your teeth, and makes you more susceptible to a host of ailments. But if you or someone you live with is one of the 20 percent of Americans who smokes tobacco, try to make sure cigarette breaks are taken outdoors and at least 15 feet away from the house, as cigarette smoke can travel back indoors. Even particles on your skin and clothes can put your children at risk, so I recommend changing your clothes or wearing a smoking jacket as well as washing your hands before returning to attend to your children.

Invest in an air purifier – Dust, smoke, and pollen can build up to pollute the air in your home. This can be true even if you clean regularly. Particulates can also be generated from stoves and appliances you use to cook. An air purifier (or two) can clear the air and ensure your children aren’t breathing particulate matter or gaseous pollutants while at home.

Open your windows – Chemical cleaning products, air fresheners and scented candles all leave particulate matter floating around in your home. We live in California – where opening your windows for 10 minutes at a time shouldn’t let any snow in, and can be enough to get rid of some of that dirty air. This is especially important to do during the winter when windows can stay closed for months at a time.

Consider moving – If your child has particularly bad asthma, or other lung issues, you may need to seriously consider moving somewhere with better air quality. This is a drastic step for most people, but maintaining your child’s respiratory health is incredibly important to their overall development. Ages 11-15 are a crucial period of growth for children, and poor lung development during these years can result in lifelong issues.
Lastly, you can be part of the change to make air in Orange County cleaner. As individuals, we can’t purify the air overnight, but by carpooling, using alternative fuel vehicles and taking alternative transportation, like trains or bikes, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we contribute to the air. Study after study demonstrates that we can’t afford to dismiss air quality as something we don’t have control over. Respiratory health is important for all of us, and parents should take steps to protect their children’s respiratory health. Following some of the points listed above should help you and your children breathe a little easier.

Maureen Villasenor is a mother of two children and pediatrician at St. Joseph Medical Group in Orange, California. She has a passion for improving the health of her patients and empowering parents to make their children as healthy as possible.

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