Schools nationwide have been forced to close, and the haze also affects productivity levels at the office. But this is just skimming the surface of the true impact of haze on our country.
On Wednesday, the Dewan Rakyat approved a motion to discuss the haze problem affecting Malaysia.
The Health Ministry (MOH) has issued guidelines on how care for one's health during the haze. Such information is often overlooked, or not adhered to, especially for those who have to spend time outdoors.
As taking care of your health remains a priority during this period, we share with you five things that you may not know about the haze and how it can affect your health.
In the short-term, haze may cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat in healthy individuals.
The heart and lungs are particularly affected by particles in haze, raising risks for those with heart or lung conditions.
It may take between one and three days for the effects or symptoms of haze to be felt.
Short-term adverse effects of exposure to haze:
- Eye irritation, watering eyes, and/or conjunctivitis (a type of eye inflammation).
- Running nose, stuffy nose, sneezing, and/or post-nasal drip.
- Throat irritation, dry throat, sore throat and/or coughing, phlegm.
- Headache, dizziness, fatigue and/or stress.
- Decreased lung function, depressed respiratory immune defenses, chest tightness, chest pain, shortness of breath, bronchitis (lung inflammation).
But according to some studies, continuous exposure to haze will raise the risk of cardiovascular effects, reduced lung development and the development of chronic respiratory diseases in kids.
The long-term risks associated with exposure to fine particles:
- Faster rate of thickening of the arteries compared to others, promoting the development of vascular diseases.
- Increases the risk of death by cardiovascular disease and reduces life expectancy by several months to a few years.
- May contribute to the development of diabetes.
- Spontaneous abortion, under-weight infants, birth defects and infant death.
2) How does the haze affect vulnerable groups?
In general, everyone - even those without any health conditions will be affected by the haze. However, two vulnerable groups that will be greatly affected are babies and the elderly due to their physical condition.
- Babies, especially newborns, are at a higher health risk during the haze period because their respiratory system is susceptible to the poor air quality. Babies could develop asthma or bronchitis if their respiratory system is affected.
- For babies who generally have good health condition, the haze might irritate the baby’s nose, throat, airways, skin, eyes and develop skin rashes.
- Fine particles found in the haze can penetrate deep into the baby’s lungs if air quality reaches critical levels.
- The elderly are greatly affected by the haze as their lungs tend to be weaker.
- They may experience serious sneezing and coughing conditions.
- Those with medical conditions such chronic and lung diseases will be affected greatly once the haze reaches critical levels.
- Inform the management if you are suffering from any heart or respiratory diseases.
- Take your medication regularly if suffering from an existing disease, especially heart and respiratory diseases.
- Drink more water and increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. This helps the body to flush out toxins absorbed through the skin and lungs, and improve the immune system.
- Cut down on alcohol and coffee. These promote fluid and nutrient loss from the body.
- Avoid smoking
- Wear a suitable mask, like the N95 mask, or respirator when you go outside.
4) What safety measure can I take at home?
- Close all windows, doors and any openings that may allow haze to enter your home. Turn on the air conditioner if available. Ensure adequate ventilation in the closed room.
- Ensure maintenance of the air conditioner with regular cleaning and servicing. Fine particles can enter an air-conditioned home through the fresh air intake and by infiltration through openings and gaps.
- Use an air purifier to keep the particulate levels low. An air purifier or air cleaning devices may be used to reduce the amount of air contaminants that may be circulating in your home.
- Although it is recommended for everybody to stay indoors, but in circumstances where you have to be outside, MOH recommends the use of respirators as compared to surgical masks, available at most shops.
- The N95 respirator works better as they seal better and restrict more polluted air from entering the nose and mouth. They also come with the right filter to remove fine particles found in haze. It also increases effort in breathing.
- Depending on the manufacturer, some N95 respirators will have the expiry date shown on the packaging. In general, N95 respirators produced by 3M will have a maximum shelf life of five years from the production date.
- However, it is not suitable for pregnant women and children. Persons with chronic lung or heart conditions who feel uncomfortable when wearing the N95 respirator should stop doing so and consult a doctor before carrying on.