3.SEP.2019 4 MIN READ | 4 MIN READ

The haze impacts the health of individuals differently. In this article, we answer common questions about the haze, and learn how to protect ourselves against it.

We’re all familiar with haze – the smog-like phenomenon that irritates our eyes and ruins our plans for football matches and morning jogs. But did you know that severe haze conditions can pose potentially serious hazards to your health?

While we’ve had some reprieve from the haze in recent years, there’s no need to remain foggy about the details. Here’s a guide that clears up all you need to know about the haze, and how to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy.

What exactly is the haze?

What is haze?
Unlike mist and fog, which consist of water droplets in the air, haze is made up of dense smoke, dust, moisture and vapour.

When these coarse particles stay in the atmosphere and end up in the air space of another country, it becomes transboundary haze, affecting more people outside of the originating country.

How often is Singapore hit by the haze?

Singapore experiences the haze every year or so, with particularly severe spells in 2006 and 2013. It’s usually caused by large-scale forest and land fire in the region.

Who are the populations at risk, and am I in that demographic?

The haze generally affects everyone, but children, the elderly and individuals with chronic respiratory problems are most at risk of the negative effects of haze.

What are some common conditions that may be caused or affected by haze season?

Symptoms
During haze season, you may experience respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, cough and a dry throat be due to the low quality of air. Those with sensitive eyes may also experience discomfort.

If you have a chronic heart or lung condition – such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – be sure to be extra careful, as the haze could worsen its effects.

Should these symptoms worsen, seek medical help at your local clinic or A&E department.

How can I tell if the haze is severe?

Haze levels are measured by the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI). Here’s a simple breakdown of how these values look like, and what they mean for you:

0 – 50 (Good air quality): You can go about your business as usual.

51 – 100(Moderate air quality): You may notice a slight drop in visibility, but there’s no need to fret at this point.

101 – 200 (Unhealthy air): You may find yourself experiencing irritation of your eyes, nose and throat. If you have heart or respiratory issues, try to avoid physical and outdoor activities. Children, pregnant women and the elderly should minimise strenuous activities.

201 – 300 (Very unhealthy air): The aged and sick should remain indoors, and the general public should avoid excessive outdoor activity.

301 – 400 (Hazardous air): Healthy individuals will experience symptoms that restrict normal activity.

Above 400: The public should stay indoors, shut all windows and doors, and limit physical activity.

Real time updates on the haze situation in Singapore can be found on the National Environment Agency’s haze microsite.

How can I protect myself and my respiratory systems during haze season?

For healthy individuals, short-term exposure to haze will probably be more of an irritation than a cause for concern. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry – and best to be prepared with preventive measures.

N95 masks

N95 mask
A respiratory mask that can be found in all common drugstores and pharmacies, the N95 mask is designed to keep out fine particulate matter and prevent you from breathing them in. Note that normal surgical and paper masks don’t work because they only offer protection against bodily fluids, and not polluted air.

Stay hydrated

Polluted air causes eye, throat and even skin irritation. The particles in the air trap heat on skin as well. Drinking 6 – 8 glasses of water a day can help the body flush out any toxins absorbed by your lungs and skin.

Take it one step further and slap on some moisturiser with SPF protection to prevent skin irritation. It’s great for your skin anyway!

Reduce outdoor and physical activities

Active outdoor sports require deep breathing, which causes more pollutants to enter your lungs. Stay indoors as much as possible when the haze is at its peak. It’s your perfect excuse to relax and take things easy.

Keep the air indoors fresh

Air purifier
Ensure the air indoors remains fresh by closing the windows, and investing in a good air filter or purifier. A good purifier is one with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter, which may help improve air quality indoors.

Load up on vitamins

Time to break out the carrots, sweet potatoes and broccoli. Foods rich in vitamin A can protect your eyes, lungs, improve the oxygen-carrying capabilities in your body, and have the added benefits of building up your immune system as well.

Be sure to take your daily dose of vitamin C in the form of fruits and leafy greens as well – it works with vitamin E to keep your lung tissues healthy.

 

Article reviewed by Dr Othello Dave, deputy medical director at Parkway Hospitals

References

Chan, Delle (2015, Sep 18) 4 Ways to beat the haze. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from https://www.herworld.com/solutions/4-ways-beat-haze

Haze Situation Update. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from https://www.haze.gov.sg/

Haze Action Online. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from http://haze.asean.org/about-us/information-on-fire-and-haze/

Haze Health Advisory for the public. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from https://www.moh.gov.sg/resources-statistics/educational-resources/haze

Vitamin C: Best Food Sources, Why You Need It, and More. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from https://www.healthxchange.sg/food-nutrition/food-tips/vitamin-c-best-food-sources-need

6 Ways to Beat the Haze. Retrieved on 10 August 2019 from https://www.asiaone.com/health/6-ways-beat-haze

3.SEP.2019
img
Dr Othello Dave
Deputy Medical Director
Parkway Hospitals

Dr Othello Dave is an ENT specialist – head and neck surgery (Philippines).