People at risk
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There are certain people who are particularly sensitive to air pollution and who can be more affected than others. Children, pregnant women, people who suffer from asthma, heart disease or other illnesses and the elderly are particularly at risk.
Children are still growing and their bodies are still developing. Their immune and respiratory systems are not yet fully developed, and they also tend to breathe through their mouth and more rapidly, taking in more pollution per kilogram of body weight. Air pollution can result in a deficit in lung growth, lead to and worsen children’s asthma and increase the frequency of coughs and colds.
As a parent, you should pay attention to warning signs such as frequent coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath when exercising - because these might indicate undiagnosed asthma. If your child has already been diagnosed with asthma, monitor closely his/her respiratory condition, regularly check the air pollution forecast and do not forget to inform teachers at school on actions to be taken in case of an emergency. Make sure your child always carries necessary medicines and try to arrange your daily activities according to the current air quality situation.
The quality of air pregnant women breathe is important, because it can also have an impact on the outcome of their pregnancy. Recent studies found a link to lower birth weight, higher rates of pre-term birth and pre-eclampsia when the mother breathed in dirty air.
When you are pregnant, pay special attention to the daily air quality forecast and plan your activities accordingly. On days with high pollution, pregnant women should try to avoid walking along busy roads or areas with heavy traffic.
What would cause a younger person a mild discomfort, can turn into a chronic and even fatal infection for an elderly person. The lungs of older people have been exposed to air pollution longer than lungs of young people, their immune system might be weaker and their body’s ability to filter out air pollution is weakened.
It is therefore important for the elderly to pay attention to the air quality situation and forecast, and avoid staying outside when levels of air pollution are high.
If you already suffer from a respiratory disease, air pollution is most probably going to cause you additional problems. Exposure to air pollution can trigger asthma attacks and cause coughing, wheezing and chest pain to people with sensitive airways. On days with higher pollution levels asthmatics suffer increased wheezing, coughing and attacks of breathlessness accompanied by a lower lung function and need for additional relief medications. Air pollution may make things worse also for COPD patients, and lead to heart problems, even heart attacks or strokes for those patients with cardiovascular problems.
For people who already suffer from a respiratory or cardiovascular disease, it is therefore important to monitor the daily pollution forecast regularly, follow prescribed treatment and always carry the rescue medication. And if necessary use an effective breathing mask.
Exposure to some level of air pollution is practically unavoidable in most urban and even rural areas. However, you can always plan your activities and adjust your habits in order to avoid health problems related to high levels of air pollution. If you need any tips, try to contact a patient or environmental organisation active in your area.
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