Risks to your child’s lungs

How air pollution affects your children's lungs

Air pollution can affect your children's lungs before and after birth.

What is air pollution?

Air pollution is harmful particles or gases in the air that we can breathe in.

Even when you’re in your car, you and your children can breathe in polluted air – from traffic fumes, petrol vapour, tobacco smoke and chemicals. In fact air pollution can often be higher inside your car than outside.

Pollution is not just in the air we breathe when we go out, it can also affect the quality of the air we breathe indoors as well.

Breathing in too much polluted air is bad for your child’s lungs.

Before your child is born

One study has shown that if a baby is exposed to air pollution in the womb it can alter their lung development.

If your baby is exposed to a lot of air pollution, it can also lead to premature birth and low birth weight.

You can't avoid air pollution completely while you are pregnant. But it can be worth thinking about how you can reduce the amount of air pollution you breathe in.

After your child is born

Children are more vulnerable to breathing in polluted air than adults. For their size, they breathe more air each minute than an adult. Buggies and prams put them at the level of car exhausts.

If your child breathes high levels of air pollution over a long period, they might be at risk of:

  • their lungs not working as well as they grow older
  • developing asthma during childhood or as an adult - and if they have asthma already, air pollution can make it worse
  • wheezing
  • coughs
  • lung cancer when they’re older
  • infections like pneumonia

Air pollution can be very worrying as there’s only so much we can do about it ourselves. But if your child is healthy, the effects of air pollution are likely to be quite small. The best thing you can do is make sure your child does not breathe in cigarette smoke.

Related information:

Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.