More than 9 million American children suffer from asthma. Ozone air pollution, among other environmental pollutants, only exacerbates this condition.
In Chicago, where the asthma hospitalization rate is twice the national average, air pollution can have a dramatic impact.
"The EPA cited the effect of smog—diesel, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter—on kids with asthma as a major reason for its strengthened air quality standards," says Dr. Sai Nimmagadda, a pediatrician at Chicago’s Children’s Memorial Hospital who specializes in asthma and immunology.
While these new standards will hopefully lead to cleaner air in the future, Nimmagadda says, research shows that diesel exhaust particles and other particulate matter are especially harmful to children with asthma.
"The fact is that for the time being, poor air quality in urban environments is particularly hard on children with asthma because it can set off a reaction in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe."
While the EPA’s tougher standards aim to improve air quality for our nation’s children, Nimmagadda says parents can take action by making sure their children’s asthma is under control, which includes talking to their doctor about treatment options and keeping kids indoors on high ozone days.
Parents need to be aware of the signs of asthma, such as coughing, wheezing or difficulty sleeping. Children may experience symptoms while exercising or playing sports.
"Many children, especially those who use a rescue inhaler more than twice a week, could benefit from a controller medicine," Nimmagadda says. One such medication is Pulmicort Respules, which is for children as young as 12 months. "This medication is used daily, even when a child isn’t experiencing symptoms, because it treats the inflammation—the "quiet" part of asthma—and helps prevent symptoms that can lead to an attack."
Tougher EPA standards on pollution combined with individual efforts made by concerned citizens, such as driving less or being vigilant about energy consumption, are steps toward improving the air our children breathe every day.
Nimmagadda encourages parents to visit an informational Web site, EveryDayKidz.com, to download an asthma resource guide.