Even as we leave fall behind, the impacts and memories of our region’s recent wildfires linger. We’re likely headed into a winter that will be shorter and a summer (and another wildfire season) that will come sooner. In fact, wildfire activity in our state has been increasing for the past 50 years. Research out this past summer from Columbia University found a fivefold increase in the amount of land in California that burns each year, and scientists increasingly cite climate change as one of the main drivers of this trend. Ruby Gonzalez, MD, of the Emanate Health Foothill Family Practice Medical Group, offers thoughts about the effects of these changes on our children’s health.
How do longer and more intense wildfire seasons translate into health issues for our children?
These climate-related events can impact a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being. Specifically, given that children now have access to social media and the news and word-of-mouth at school, that can increase their fear and anxiety. One thing that parents can do to help decrease these anxieties and fears is to have an open discussion with our kids about what’s going on with climate change and the environment, and how they can prepare as a family.
With these increased fires, air quality in our region has also worsened. Many kids who have pre-existing respiratory conditions – allergies, asthma, bronchitis – are likely to have those exacerbated. Some of the symptoms to look out for in your kids are increased coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath, or complaints that their chest feels tight or heavy. These are signs that they should be seeing their health-care provider.
Do you have a resource that you like to use for monitoring air quality?
AirNow.gov is a great resource. I check it almost on a daily basis because I also have two little kids at home. It gives you a color-coordinated daily update for air quality in your region. Green means good. You can go outside, and it shouldn’t be a problem. Once it starts getting in the yellow region, if you have pre-existing conditions, you should probably consider not doing any outdoor activities. If it’s orange or red, we should probably all just stay indoors.
How can our efforts to combat climate change help improve our children’s health?
Short-term, combatting climate change would help reduce children’s fears and anxieties. Participating with the family in events such as beach cleanups or teaching them about recycling could increase their confidence.
Ultimately, these steps will work toward creating a healthier environment for not just our kids, but for their kids, too.