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Those of us who live in the desert Southwest are very aware of the dangers of too much sun. From sunburn and heat stroke, to the risk of skin cancer, the sun can seem to be an enemy that children should avoid.
But for children in colder and wetter climates, the danger may lie in not getting enough sun. Specifically, children who don’t get enough sun may be at greater risk of developing asthma.
Asthma is an ongoing (chronic) condition that makes breathing difficult. During an asthma attack, the airways can become inflamed and swollen, cutting off the flow of air.
Excess mucus can form in the airways which further blocks air movement in and out of the lungs. At the same time, muscles around the airways can clamp down, making air passages even smaller.
The symptoms of an asthma attack include wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, and difficulty breathing. A severe asthma attack can stop breathing completely, resulting in death.
Vitamin D is a nutrient that can help protect children from developing asthma. While some vitamin D comes from foods, up to 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight. Scientists know that vitamin D levels are typically lower in people who have asthma.
Researchers in Valencia, Spain studied over 45,000 children and teenagers in the country. They correlated the number of children with asthma with their geographic locations.
Children who live in areas that get less sun, such as northern Spain, had a higher incidence of asthma than children living in sun-rich southern portions of the country.
Their research suggested that people living in northern areas with fewer hours of sunshine need to pay attention to how much sun exposure their children get each day. Some areas recommend spending 20 to 30 minutes each day in the sun.
At latitudes higher than 40 degrees north, there may not be enough sunlight during the winter months for people to absorb the vitamin D they need. Vitamin D supplements can help bridge this gap to make sure children get enough to lower their asthma risk.