Air pollution in cold weather is deadly for children, say doctors
Thousands of children are facing a hospital stay as cold weather and the air pollution crisis combine to create potentially deadly conditions for young people, doctors have warned.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians and children’s charity Unicef say that Britain’s toxic air and cold weather will leave many children extremely vulnerable this winter, creating an “overlooked” emergency for an already stretched NHS.
“Wards could soon be filled with wheezing, spluttering children, their lungs struggling to battle the double burden of cold weather and toxic air,” they state in a letter to the Guardian.
Winter often sees spikes in acute air pollution as the cold weather results in both an increase in emissions from the heating of homes and offices, including the burning of wood or coal, and reduced dispersion in cold, still conditions. This, combined with freezing temperatures that weaken those with respiratory trouble, leaves thousands vulnerable to acute health problems.
In the letter the doctors state that children are most at risk from this double threat, and they say that as the NHS prepares for a winter bed shortage, they have a “mandate to flag an issue that is continually overlooked”.
“We know that the elderly are susceptible to ill health caused by the drop in temperatures, but the impact on young children with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, is often disregarded,” they said.
Britain was home to more children suffering from respiratory conditions than anywhere else in Europe. “Admissions for people with respiratory conditions almost double during the winter – and the majority of those admitted are young children.
“Emergency admissions and mortality rates linked to these conditions are also the highest: a child experiencing an asthma attack is admitted to hospital every 20 minutes.”
Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people each year across Britain and affects the health of hundreds of thousands more. Last month, the UN warned that the UK government was endangering people’s health by denying their right to clean air, and Unicef told the Guardian it had refocused its British operation to tackle air pollution because of the scale of the health crisis facing young people in the country.
In the letter, doctors’ leaders and Unicef say more needs to be done to prevent thousands of young people falling seriously ill this winter with “irreversible damage to their health and their futures”.