Indoor air pollution and childhood pneumonia

There is increasing awareness about harms of pollution on one’s lungs but less on how the unborn child is harmed when her or his mother inhales polluted air. Indoor air pollution has serious consequences for the unborn child such as the smoke coming out of cook stoves or tobacco smoke. Tobacco consumption is associated with diseases, disabilities and deaths.

When non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke it is called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. Non-smokers who breathe in secondhand smoke take in nicotine and other toxic chemicals just like smokers do. The more secondhand smoke you are exposed to, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in your body.

Passive smoking or exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke also causes serious life-threatening ailments and one of them is their adverse impact on pregnant mother. Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke are also at increased risk of having low birth-weight babies or still birth. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) secondhand smoke is killing 600,000 annually, including 165,000 children under the age of 5 years.

Exposure to secondhand smoke or passive smoking is directly linked to lung infections such as pneumonia and bronchitis especially in children below the age of 18 months.

Dr Ritu Garg, senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Yash Hospital said that a child can be protected by smoke coming out of cook stoves by covering her or him by a very thin and light cloth (make sure breathing is not restricted in any way or pose any other danger to the child). However Dr Garg also points out that tobacco smoking by parents or other family members living in the house is unacceptable. Passive smoke or secondhand smoke is detrimental for a child’s health and causes pneumonia.

Awareness about hazards of secondhand smoke is low. Child of educated parents, Munindra Nath and Prabha Anand was born as a premature child and later developed pneumonia. However they weren’t really alarmed about harmful effects of exposure to secondhand smoke due to smoking cigarettes within households.

Not only secondhand smoke but also other dust particles arising out of construction going within the house or close by or other sources is harmful for a child and puts the child at risk of asthma and pneumonia, said Dr Nidhi Johri, senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician, Hope Mother and Child Care Centre, Lucknow. At least 40 per cent of childhood pneumonia cases among her patients are due to secondhand smoke, said Dr Johri.
Environmental pollution is dangerous in every way and particularly a lead cause of respiratory infections such as pneumonia in children with low immunity, said Dr Ajay Kumar, senior Paediatrician, Hope Mother and Child Care Centre, Lucknow. When immunity of a child is low then the child is at an elevated risk of contracting such infections like pneumonia.

Exposure to smoke of ‘bidi’ or cigarettes is very bad for a child’s health, said Dr Santosh Rai, senior paediatrician, Vatsalya Clinic, Lucknow. Dr Rai adds that parents should protect their children from smoke coming out of other sources too apart from cook stoves and tobacco – such as mosquito repellant coils which might be dangerous for their child.

Children should not be exposed to smoke coming out of cook stoves. Either the cooking can be done on cook stoves away from where the child is or some other practical solution needs to be worked out. Similarly for those parents or other guardians smoking tobacco inside the house it is strongly recommended not to do so anymore and best is to quit tobacco use before it gets too late and tobacco-related life-threatening diseases take their course.
Neeraj Mailani - CNS
(Translation: Bobby Ramkant, Lucknow)