Looking after our health and the health of our loved ones should always be a priority, and it is important that we understand environmental hazards such as haze in order to do this effectively. Parents of young children in particular need to be aware of the potential effects, and what they can do to mitigate them.
What is haze?
Haze occurs when pollutants in the air reach a certain level, affecting the air quality to such an extent that it can have health implications. From a technical point of view, anything above 101 on the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) is considered unhealthy.
Singapore has experienced severe smoke haze because of forest fires in the region, which have been started in order to clear the land for agricultural reasons. This is then exacerbated by weather conditions such as low levels of rain, and wind carrying the smoke to more urban, residential areas.
Marie Charles, a doctor based in South East Asia, is recognized as a global healthcare innovator with the knowledge, skills and ambition to address healthcare challenges in the developing world and at a national level. Recognizing the serious health risks of issues like haze, she is part of a movement within the medical industry to address these as a matter of urgency.
What does it do?
The specific health impacts of haze depend on its severity and the level of pollutants in the air. The higher the level, the worse the impacts tend to be.
In the short term, you may notice irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, similar to allergic symptoms or a cold. Allergies, asthma and existing heart and lung conditions can be aggravated, particularly among young children, pregnant women and the elderly.
Research is still being carried out to understand the longer-term impacts, though some studies already suggest a possible correlation between haze and conditions including impaired lung development in children, and the frequency of heart attacks.
What can I do about it?
There are three fundamental steps to take:
- Monitor the situation. The Ministry of Health and the National Environment Agency publish advice or guidance on haze, and are a good source of information.
- Stay indoors as much as possible during periods of high pollution, and limit yourself to normal activities that do not cause you to physically exert yourself, such as exercise or outdoor manual labor. This is especially important for children, pregnant women and the elderly.
- If going outside is unavoidable, minimize this as much as possible and wear a N95 mask if hazardous levels have been reported.
Governments and the medical profession are looking at the bigger picture, working on ways to reduce haze and its impacts, such as early warning systems and improved methods of measurement and reporting. In the meantime, we all have a responsibility to take steps to protect ourselves. For parents, this means keeping an eye on air quality and weather conditions and taking pre-emptive measures to make sure that our families are shielded in the best way possible.