By: Jessica Hefes

Date: 9/8/10

Air pollution directly affects children’s health. A number of studies have shown how pollution affects children’s bodies.

In one study it was shown that children in a high-pollution district had significantly lower absorption of oxygen than those in a low-pollution district. [1] Similarly, mothers and children living in the more polluted districts of Hong Kong have reported more respiratory symptoms and have not performed as well in lung function tests than those living in less polluted areas. [2] International studies have shown that lung function of children living within 500-1500 meters of major roads with high traffic is reduced. [3]

It has been observed that children in the more polluted areas of Hong Kong visit doctors for respiratory problems more often and have reduced lung functions. [4] As an example, in a district with high concentrations of emissions from factories, 3846 primary school children were found to have significantly higher rates of sore throat, cough, morning phlegm and wheezing than those in less polluted districts. [5]

It appears that when children live in a more polluted district, it worsens their breathing allergy symptoms compared to those who live in a less polluted area. This is true even after the results are adjusted to take into account a number of factors, including wheezing, asthma, home tobacco smoke and socioeconomic factors. [6]

An increase in air pollution directly triggers certain symptoms in children. A study in the United States comparing the results of a questionnaire with weekly pollution data from different sites in the community found that high ambient levels of the metals nickel and vanadium were risk factors for wheezing, while exposure to carbon particles, a by-product of diesel exhaust, was associated with coughing during the cold and flu season. [7]

In Los Angeles it was found that there are no filters that are effective enough remove the ultra-fine particles to protect children. What level of filtration is adequate is an open question. [5]

In China, a significant link was found between air pollution and specific symptoms. One study showed a significant correlation between particulate matter and cough in schoolchildren as well as a rise in the number of doctor’s visits. Another showed that all residents who had been exposed to sulphur dioxide had mild to severe respiratory signs and symptoms, such as chest tightness, cough, throat irritation, tears, and runny nose. Children and the elderly were most affected. During a sulphur dioxide episode, there was a 50% increase in clinic attendance for upper respiratory infections. [2]


  1. Impact of air pollution on cardiopulmonary fitness in schoolchildren, Yu IT, Wong TW, Liu HJ, 2004, J Occup Environ Med 46:946–952
  2. 2.0 2.1 Air pollution and health studies in China, A Literature Review, Civic Exchange, June 2008 – last accessed 11/8/2010
  3. Air Quality Objectives Review Public Consultation, EPD website – last accessed 11/8/2010
  4. Adverse effects of low-level air pollution on the respiratory health of schoolchildren in Hong Kong, Yu TSI, Wong TW, Wang XR et al, 2001, J Occup Environ Med 43:310–316
  5. 5.0 5.1 Studies on the respiratory health of primary school children in urban communities of Hong Kong, Ong SG, Liu J, Wong CM et al, 1991, Sci Total Environ 106:121–135
  6. Bronchial responsiveness in children exposed to atmospheric pollution in Hong Kong, Tam AYC, Wong CM, Lam TH et al, 1994, Chest 106:1056–1060
  7. Dirty air makes for wheezy kids: Study, 16 December 2008 – last accessed 11/8/2010