Recent forecasts by the Meteorological Service Singapore suggest a heightened likelihood – between 70 to 80% – of El Niño conditions arising in the latter half of 2023. Coupled with the predicted positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) event that curbs cloud formation over parts of the tropical Indian Ocean, the risk of haze in Singapore is likely to increase. If you’ve recently relocated to the country, you may be left wondering: what exactly is haze, and why should I be concerned?
What is haze?
A haze is a composite of minuscule particles suspended in the air, a mixture of pollutants that include dust, smoke, carbon monoxide, and a range of other harmful gases. Due to the small size of these particles, they can penetrate deeply into our lungs and, in certain situations, even enter the bloodstream. In Singapore, a smog-like blanket envelops the atmosphere stemming from regional forest fires, often a result of open burning practices used to clear land for agriculture.
How does haze affect us in Singapore?
Besides resulting in reduced visibility, the ramifications of haze on our health are aplenty. The extent to which it affects individuals varies based on factors such as pre-existing medical conditions, the duration of outdoor exposure, and the nature of one’s outdoor activities. Certain demographics are considered ‘vulnerable’ to haze, such as children and the elderly.
For many, short-term exposure typically manifests in the following ways:
- Eyes: Irritation, excessive watering, or even conjunctivitis.
- Nasal Passage: Symptoms like a runny nose, stuffiness or sneezing.
- Throat: Irritation, dryness, soreness, or coughing.
- General: Common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue
- Skin: Haze can lead to skin irritations or exacerbate conditions like eczema.
Because of how easily the particles can make their way into our lungs, Singapore’s haze season spells trouble for those with pre-existing heart or lung diseases, as it can aggravate conditions. For instance, the haze might lead to a spike in asthma attacks or acute bronchitis—a condition where the primary air passages in our lungs become inflamed and irritated.
Prolonged exposure can also usher in long-term consequences, including the onset of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung functionality, an amplified risk of developing cancer, and even premature death. In fact, a Harvard University study into the 2015 Southeast Asian haze attributed over 100,000 premature deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore to this event.
What can I do to protect myself during Singapore’s haze season?
Fortunately, the silver lining is that Singapore’s haze events are episodic rather than year-round, and people generally only experience mild, common symptoms above. Nonetheless, it’s always wise to be proactive about one’s health and here are some tips on how to keep you and your family protected during this season:
- N95 masks: The N95 mask, available in drugstores in Singapore, is designed to filter out particles in haze that are 2.5 microns and below. This enables them to offer enhanced protection over regular surgical masks, which are made for protection against bodily fluids.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking at least six to eight glasses of water daily can help flush out the toxins absorbed by your skin and lungs.
- Being selective about your activities: Reducing time spent outdoors and on rigorous sports activities that cause you to breathe deeply is crucial to minimise exposure.
- Fresh Indoor Air: Air purifiers, particularly those equipped with HEPA filters, will maintain a clean indoor atmosphere. Meanwhile, humidifiers can combat the dry air, which worsens haze-related conditions like eye irritation and asthma attacks.
- Nutrition: Consuming foods rich in Vitamin A, like carrots, broccoli and salmon, can protect your eyes and lungs while boosting your body’s ability to transport oxygen and fortifying your immune system. Meanwhile, regular intake of vitamin C from fruits and leafy vegetables alongside vitamin E, can help maintain the health of your lungs.
When to visit Osler Health
By taking preventive measures, one can significantly reduce health risks. But if any respiratory symptoms emerge, it’s always prudent to seek guidance from a medical expert in Singapore. Whether you need advice for a lung condition caused by haze or other diseases, Osler Health is ready to help. Our team of dedicated family doctors are adept at offering health screening services and tailoring treatments for patients of all ages, ensuring a holistic approach that factors in your unique health profile and needs. Schedule a visit to our medical clinic in Singapore today, and let us guide you and your family towards optimal well-being.