Deepa Ranganath, a worried mom of two in Delhi.“I am terribly worried for my kids, I made them bunk school today since they are both asthmatic and were feeling unwell. But how long can I keep doing that, my daughter is in the 10th grade!”
When our cities are visibly heavy with smog and air pollution seems out of control, how do we protect some of the most vulnerable groups among us?
How do parents best protect their little one during these months where pollen season, changes in weather and a dramatic rise in pollution all converge to create a toxic environment for kids?
FIT speaks to experts and parents to find out what stressors to avoid, what changes to look out for and what tips can help your kid tide through this pollution season.
Parents - Here’s How You Can Protect Your Kids
For kids, a day home from school might sound fun, however it’s anything but a holiday when you are sick. So, what are some practical solutions parents can take to best protect their child? “Firstly, restrict outdoor activity post 5 pm when pollution levels soar. Schedule activities indoors,” says Dr Neetu Talwar a senior consultant of pediatric pulmonology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute.
With the older kids, reining them in might become a little tricky, and vigilance on the parent's part to notice symptoms is a must. “I have seen many kids, many teens, hiding their symptoms of asthma. They don’t want to bother their parents or get made fun of at school and want to play sports and have fun like other kids. But then they come in with a much worse case than before,” added Dr Talwar.
Deepa says that with all four members of their family having lung problems, they all know how to reongise the signs.
“The breathlessness, the incessant coughing, the headaches that feel like a blackout,” says Deepa, telling me they have all become human AQI machines who understand their triggers and can tell when the pollution is too much.
She understands her kid's urge to hide the signs in schools and try to fit in, “Now asthma is much more rampant, but they are kids, how much can we expect them to take care of themselves. It’s up to other people to ensure the capital is liveable.”
What about the much-touted solution of putting a mask on your kids? In theory these work, but Dr Talwar says that this is not a very “workable solution because kids take them off very fast and also wearing them for too long has its own set of problems - like re-breathing the same air full of CO2.”
Deepa adds that her kids often don’t wear masks, “they want to be cool in school.”
If your child has a history of asthma, Dr Talwar advises that it is best to visit a doctor before the season begins to check the status of their asthma and increase medication if need be.
Another medical intervention to help curb the breathing problems? Get your flu shots every year.
Deepa says that flu vaccinations are a must, as besides the respiratory problems, the secondary ailments like fevers, coughs, allergies etc. are an added burden.
“My son takes anti-allergens to control his asthma triggers, but that causes dryness and nose-bleeds,” she adds.
Deepa“Once, he was competing during a robotics challenge and he bled onto the table. He gets nose bleeds while sleeping also some time. We are treating the trigger for his asthma but it is a vicious cycle.”
Besides bad health, the toxic air is also changing the way kids live their day to day. “From a keen footballer, my son had to give it up because it was triggering his asthma,” says Deepa, “ both my kids now lead mainly sedentary lives. What can they do?”
Ravina Raj Kholi of the citizen-led movement My Right to Breathe says that their group was primarily created for children, to save them from pollution.
“I want schools to ensure no outdoor activity occurs, no intense aerobic exercises even indoors while the AQI is bad. It is better to not physically strain kids because it can lead to severe physical ailments.”
With the smog and bad air everywhere and very evident, why are there not more concrete steps to protect our kids? Ravina adds that it’s an inconvenient truth, and “habits are hard to change.”
Parents- Be Brave and Don’t Panic!
The number one advice for parents Dr Talwar has? “Stay calm. Respiratory illnesses around this time are common and very treatable if the patient comes in on time.”
Dr Talwar“I had a case where the family relocated from Gurgaon to Goa to run from the bad air, only to have the child face equally bad breathing problems adjusting to the humidity. They shifted back to Gurgaon after. You can’t run from these problems and keep relocating, so the best thing to do is have a heart-to-heart with your doctor and learn about your child’s medical needs.”
“Every year we also want to shift out of Delhi. But jeena yahaan, marna yahaan,” says Deepa says with a laugh.
Parents also need to empower themselves with the right kind of knowledge and understand the problems correctly. “Don’t google things and get overly stressed. Go to government sites (India’s, UK’s, US’s) go to the CDC, go to WHO, and clear your doubts there with verified information.”
And petition your government representatives to push for active solutions to pollution.
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