How air pollution adversely affects children’s mental health?

During the country's lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, you must have noticed how clean the environment has become? We saw the bright blue sky in the morning; we enjoyed a starry night through the clear, fogless sky! Even we can breathe fresh air in a relaxing and peaceful mind. But this is like temporary happiness, a bit like a dream, city life will be as busy as before, and maybe these days of apparent relief will end with it.

Being exposed to air pollution...

The level of air pollution in the metropolitan cities of India is skyrocketing. However, the overall picture of air pollution is almost the same in India and the developed and developing countries of the world. We are not unaware that the deadly effects of air pollution cause great damage to the human body. But many of us don't know that air pollution also causes significant damage to mental health. And, do you know who suffers the most from this loss? Little children. Yes, recent scientific research has come up with this thought-provoking information.

High-resolution JPEG image Air pollution shows an adverse effect on a child's mental health.

Image description: Air pollution shows an adverse effect on a child's mental health.

During the country's lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, you must have noticed how clean the environment has become? We saw the bright blue sky in the morning; we enjoyed a starry night through the clear, fogless sky! Even we can breathe fresh air in a relaxing and peaceful mind. But this is like temporary happiness, a bit like a dream, city life will be as busy as before, and maybe these days of apparent relief will end with it.

Being exposed to air pollution...

The level of air pollution in the metropolitan cities of India is skyrocketing. However, the overall picture of air pollution is almost the same in India and the developed and developing countries of the world. We are not unaware that the deadly effects of air pollution cause great damage to the human body. But many of us don't know that air pollution also causes significant damage to mental health. And, do you know who suffers the most from this loss? Little children. Yes, recent scientific research has come up with this thought-provoking information.

Air pollution & child mental health: New connection revealed!

According to the World Health Organization, more than seven million people worldwide die each year from air pollution. Studies have shown that the effects of chlorofluorocarbons, ground layer ozone, carbon monoxide, gasoline, various harmful aromatic compounds, ultra-fine carbon, and asbestos particles in the air cause extensive damage to various parts of our body. Among them, important organs of the human body like lungs, eyes, and skin are the main air pollution victims. As a result, terrible diseases like allergies, asthma, interstitial lung disease, and even cancer can happen. Interestingly, scientists have recently discovered that air pollution damages nerve cells in the human brain, causing neurological complications such as neurocognitive disorders. It's a concerning point that increasing the air pollution level has a devastating effect on young children who have green and sensitive minds. University of Cincinnati scientists Dr. Cole Brockamp and Dr. Patrick Ryan have gathered this information through long research. Their research has been published in the famous science journal "Environmental Health Perspectives."

The neuro-psychological insult!

According to scientists, children's mental health can be affected by air pollution both indoors and outdoors. The unhealthy smoke of coal, kerosene, wood stoves, cigars, bidis, cigarettes (where children are victims of passive smoking) in the homes of the economically underprivileged people severely damage the mental health of the children. Besides, when children play outside or go to school, the polluted air containing dust, fumes from construction sites, cement, asbestos, quartz, and fine carbon particles from automobile exhaustion causes considerable damage to their lungs, skin, and especially the brain. Studies have shown that children exposed to increased levels of pollution spend more time outdoors, and use public transportation, have different mental complications and neurological disorders. According to statistics, mental illnesses such as mental inactivity, anxiety, dementia, fatigue, and suicidal tendencies are increasing at an abnormal rate among children (aged 6 to 12) and adolescents (aged 13 to 18). The scientific truth prevails that air pollution is an obstacle to the development of normal intelligence, affecting 'psychomotor development' in young children's brains. The study highlights an important issue: children and adolescents in developing countries who do not receive adequate nutrition due to financial hardship are at greater risk of deteriorating mental health in high air pollution levels. Even with the conditions of chronic malnutrition and exhaustion, air pollution can give rise to various neuro-psychological complications at an early age, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

We can only see the tip of the Iceberg...

One question may come in your mind: how does increasing air pollution cause deterioration in children's and adolescents' mental health? What are the underlying reasons?

Researchers well explained the mechanism behind the phenomenon. According to their research, various air pollutants are floating in the air in fine particles called "small particulate matter" (PM). They have exceptional features. These particles are less than 2.5 microns in size and can easily enter the lungs by inhalation. These tiny particles penetrate the "blood-brain-barrier" of the brain through the bloodstream and enter the nerve cells and quickly destroy them. This can lead to neuropathic problems that can lead to various behavioral abnormalities, such as mental inertia, fatigue, anxiety, etc. Prolonged neuropathy can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Air pollution levels in Africa, South Asia, and the Indian subcontinent countries are rising alarmingly. Excessive vehicular traffic in India's various cities has long been associated with releasing toxic fumes and small particulate matter 2.5 in the air. The major concern is that the precipitation rate of PM2.5 is meager. They can float for a very long time in the air. As a result, PM2.5 easily enters the children's body via breathing. Also, scientists informed the effects of air pollution on pregnant mothers are extremely harmful. Contamination caused by these small particulate matters can damage the fetus. Physicians have observed that a fine particle of 2.5 microns can easily enter the lungs of the fetus. This may lead to the premature death of the baby during pregnancy. Also, the effects of air pollution disrupt the fetus’s brain's growth and cause neurological complications. 

Need more awareness...

Extensive public awareness is needed to prevent air pollution. All over the world, many children are still struggling daily with unhealthy housing, illiteracy, poverty, malnutrition, and many more obstacles. It is the responsibility of all of us to keep these soft young minds alive. May the precious childhood of the present and future generations be nurtured in a caring and affectionately environment, may this promise be kept alive in the people's minds.

Reference: 

  1. Cole Brokamp, Jeffrey R. Strawn, Andrew F. Beck, Patrick Ryan. Pediatric Psychiatric Emergency Department Utilization and Fine Particulate Matter: A Case-Crossover Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2019; 127 (9): 097006 
  2. Costa LG, Cole TB, Dao K, Chang YC, Garrick JM. Developmental impact of air pollution on brain function. Neurochem Int. 2019 Dec;131:104580. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuint.2019.104580. Epub 2019 Oct 15. PMID: 31626830; PMCID: PMC6892600.
  3. Vivian L, Winkler A, Dlugaj M, Schikowski T, Vossoughi M, Fuks K, Weinmayr G, Hoffmann B. Effect of long-term outdoor air pollution and noise on cognitive and psychological functions in adults. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2015 Jan;218(1):1-11. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2014.08.002. Epub 2014 Sep 3. PMID: 25242804.
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  5. Thomson EM. Air Pollution, Stress, and Allostatic Load: Linking Systemic and Central Nervous System Impacts. J Alzheimers Dis. 2019;69(3):597-614. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-190015. PMID: 31127781; PMCID: PMC6598002.
  6. Buoli M, Grassi S, Caldiroli A, Carnevali GS, Mucci F, Iodice S, Cantone L, Pergoli L, Bollati V. Is there a link between air pollution and mental disorders? Environ Int. 2018 Sep;118:154-168. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.05.044. Epub 2018 Jun 5. PMID: 29883762.
  7. Hankey S, Marshall JD. Urban Form, Air Pollution, and Health. Curr Environ Health Rep. 2017 Dec;4(4):491-503. DOI: 10.1007/s40572-017-0167-7. PMID: 29052114.
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I am a passionate, dedicated, and highly accomplished science content writer with over sixteen years of experience. I acquired my intense writing experience as a Former Scientist at Amity University (Amity Institute of Virology and Immunology, Delhi, India) where I taught a wide variety of scientific courses like Zoology, Molecular Biology, Medical Biotechnology, Cancer Immunology, and Microbiology, etc. Also, during my Postdoctoral Research from the University of Pennsylvania (School of Medicine, Philadelphia, USA) and City of Hope National Medical Center (California, USA) has additionally helped me to acquire in-depth knowledge and expertise on content, grant and paper writing in advance level. I completed my Bachelor’s degree (Zoology Honors, University rank holder), Master’s degree (Zoology, University of Calcutta) & PhD Degree in the field of Cancer Biology, with my own Fellowship form CSIR/UGC NET (Degree awarded from Jadavpur University). Throughout my scientific career as a research fellow in cancer biology or in my professional career as a scientist, I have published several international research papers, Books, Editorials, News-letters, short communications, blogs in different reputed online platforms.

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