The effects of haze on our health

The effects of haze on our health

The haze from forest fires in Indonesia is a type of air pollution that can cause and/or aggravate existing cardiac and respiratory conditions. Here's what you should know to protect your family.

Haze occurs when fine particles cloud and pollute the lower atmosphere, affecting visibility. When caused by forest fires, it increases risks of cardiac ailments and respiratory illnesses.

It predominantly comes from Jakarta, more notably Sumatra and Kalimantan, where farmers practice forest-burning in their agricultural process.

General Health Effects of Haze

Nose/airways/lungs

Inhaling particles in the air causes the body to attempt to secrete as much mucus as possible to flush out the foreign particles. Hence, a runny nose is one of the common effects of haze.

Airways and lungs will be affected as well when breathing in the hazardous haze. This results to inflamed airways. Coughing is a way the body reacts to expelling the particles.

Skin

Skin may also become irritated. Those with a history of eczema may experience a flare-up as the skin reacts by becoming itchy and inflamed. Apply moisturizers several times a day to protect your skin.

Eyes

Another one of the effects of haze is the exposure of the eyes to the air pollution. Eyes will tear naturally to clean itself. Use preservative-free eye drops to remove the allergens.

Heart

Under the stress of inflamed airways and a multitude of other bodily irritations, the heart may pump faster thus possibly increasing blood pressure.

Continue reading to know how you can protect your family from the effects of haze

How to Protect Everyone at Home

When staying indoors, which is recommended, do the following:

  • Practice good hygiene such as washing of hands and face if you come from outside.
  • Keep doors and windows closed and cover any holes in screen doors to keep the haze out.
  • Have good ventilation. Turn on the fan or air-conditioning to keep the room cool and comfortable. Ensure that the filters are in optimal working condition and not chockfull of trapped dust.
  • Switch on an air purifier to help improve the indoor air quality, especially in areas of the house that do not have air-conditioning. Doing this keeps away the negative effects of haze from your home. Here are some tips on choosing the right air purifier.
  • Take care of your eyes. If your eyes are aggravated and you are wearing contact lenses, stop wearing them until your eyes have healed and the air situation has improved.

effects of haze

Caring for baby’s skin and diet:

  • Continue to breastfeed normally if your baby is breastfed. If you are unwell (e.g. have a throat inflammation or are experiencing any upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)), putting on a mask during nursing may help allay fears of passing on bacteria to your young baby. Call your doctor to get breastfeeding-compatible medication or lozenges to alleviate your discomfort. Breastfeeding helps build a baby’s bank of antibodies and natural immunities, too, so do continue to breastfeed.
  • Continue to feed normally if your baby is formula fed. Ensure that the water used is fresh and has not been left exposed without a cover. Haze sediments such as dust particles may settle on the exposed pot or kettle of water.
  • Apply moisturizer to keep baby’s skin hydrated. The haze and/or the extended hours of air-conditioning can dry the skin.

When outdoors (and only if absolutely necessary):

  • Wear a mask that covers the mouth and nose fully. The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) suggests using N95 masks that are available at pharmacies. A temporary substitute to the mask is a white, damp handkerchief.
  • Ensure road safety
    • Turn on headlights or fog lights
    • Follow suggested speed limits
    • Ensure your car or motorcyle is in good condition before taking it out
  • Wear goggles to protect your eyes from small particlates
  • Reduce physical exertion
  • Avoid heavily polluted areas where particles seem to settle more

Continue reading to learn more about the effects of haze on our health and when to call the doctor

Safe Levels

While no local news has released any information on safe and hazardous levels of haze, here is how Singapore, which has been hit hard with the haze together with Thailand, measures the quality of their air.

Haze levels are measured by the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI), and the readings classify the state of the air:

100-200 (Unhealthy): In this range, some people may experience mild eye irritation, coughing and sneezing.

200-300 (Very unhealthy): With this very unhealthy level, people may experience more higher degrees of eye irritation, acute coughing and breathing problems.

301-400 (Hazardous): Significant aggravation of symptoms for vulnerable people. Some people may experience the early onset of certain diseases such as breathing disorders like asthma.

Above 400 (Hazardous): Any reading above 400 could actually be life-threatening to elderly folks or sick people.

Who Should Avoid Wearing Masks

  • Newborns or babies should not wear masks. Doing so will interfere with their breathing, or worse, lead to suffocation.
  • Elderly people or those with lung or heart conditions should stop using the masks if they experience discomfort or difficulties in breathing.
  • Pregnant women in their second and third trimester should not use N95 masks for long periods. It is best to consult a doctor to discuss a safe duration for wearing masks, should they allow it.

Note: Do not use masks indoors.

When to Call the Doctor

Contact your doctor if you or any of your family members or household staff experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Increased tearing of the eyes
  • Nose or throat irritation
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Flare ups of skin allergies

In general, those with asthma or pre-existing medical conditions must be closely watched during this period to ensure that medical attention is given as soon as possible, especially since the negative effects of haze can aggravate their condition.

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